Fine music at northern festival

Now just about to enter its 14th year, the Sani Festival on the northern peninsula of Halkidiki can certainly pride itself on putting on a top-class cultural event that ranks among the country’s finest. This year’s agenda, comprising five performances for the remainder of this month and a further nine throughout August, begins tomorrow with a three-day tribute, at the festival’s Sani Hill venue, to the esteemed German label ECM, an innovative force in modern jazz as well as other updated traditional forms categorized under the «world» or «ethnic» tags. Opening the festival, tomorrow night, is the Tord Gustavsen Trio, fronted by Norwegian pianist Gustavsen, a pivotal figure in the development of Scandinavian jazz, whose work tends to blend regional elements as well as transatlantic influences from the early jazz period, blues and gospel. ECM, run by the meticulous Manfred Eicher, who has produced virtually every album released by his label, has released two albums by Gustavsen, «Changing Places» of 2003 and last year’s «The Ground.» On Saturday, the festival’s ECM tribute continues with 67-year-old Charles Lloyd. A post-bop artist inspired by figures such as George Coleman, Miles Davis and B.B. King, Lloyd has embraced the musical traditions of other cultures and fused them with 60s-era psychedelia to contribute to the development of electric jazz-rock. A talented quartet he formed in New York in 1960, which also featured Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee, became jazz’s first million-album seller with its «Forest Flower» release. For his Sani Festival performance, Lloyd, accompanied by Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland on vocals, piano, drums and percussion, will focus on his new ECM release, «Sangam,» released last April. The third and final ECM-related show, Sunday, brings the Anouar Brahem Trio to the Sani Festival’s stage. The trio’s frontman, a Tunisian, respects the Arabic musical tradition but has not hesitated to experiment with newer elements in his music. His releases for ECM include «Madar,» a multicultural project with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Pakistani tablas player Shaukat Hussain. Despite the disparate backgrounds, the result was seamless. Most recently, Brahem released «Le Voyage de Sahar,» an unusual, more personal effort full of surprises. Brahem, on oud, will be joined by Francois Couturier on piano and Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion for Sunday’s Sani Festival performance. Opening will be the Telemachos Moussas Acoustic Quartet, fronted by a gifted guitarist whose breezy playing often carries wild, wayward streaks. The month of August, whose festival shows have been dubbed «Sounds of the World,» includes a performance by significant Brazilian artist Milton Nascimento and his quartet on the 5th. A Grammy-award-winning artist in 1998 for Best World Music Album, Nascimento, whose work was censored in Brazil back in the 70s, has helped introduce other talented musicians to the world music scene, including Minas Gerais, Lo Borges and Beto Guedes. Performing the following night will be world fusion artist Minino Garay, whose blend of jazz, tango, cante jondo and blues is popular on the world jazz circuit. The festival’s «Sound of the World» segment also includes two local performers: Loukianos Kilaidonis backed by the State Orchestra of Greek Music on August 13 and Eleftheria Arvanitaki with newer pop-folk arrival Manos Pyrovolakis on August 19. Something of a rebel on the local music circuit, Kilaidonis began staging shows in natural settings rather than conventional theaters back in the early 80s, a move that was unprecedented here. These days, he has abandoned the hills and bushes and actually runs the Metaxourgeio Theater in Athens with his wife, Anna Vagena. For its finale, August 24-27, the Sani Festival will host classical music performances by Greek artists, all at the Cine Orfeas, adjacent to the Sani Hill venue in Halkidiki. For info/tickets: 2310.317327, 2310.312320,