Sokratis sinopoulosNot quite a ‘Wow!’ release – more a very satisfying ‘Mmmm!’ – this smart, smooth and elegant folk-tinged jazz has a well-formed balance of tunes and space.



Label: ECM Records
Time: 12 Tracks / 57 minutes

The night before recording this disc, Greek bandleader Sinopoulos suggested to the other players in his quartet, “Especially in the solos, if you find yourself playing anything that could be easily described as ‘jazz’ or ‘folk’ or ‘classical’, then try to avoid it. Without censoring ourselves, let’s find instead the common roots of our improvising.”

It sounds like the band has taken this on board. Much of this disc is genuinely jazz-based, from the piano, bass and drums format that accompanies Sinopoulos through to the theme-improvisation-resolve structure of most tracks. But in many places, where most jazz soloists would wander far away from their themes, these players hold themselves back and keep much closer to the tune.

(And tunes abound. Three of the strongest – “Yerma,” the title track and “21st March” – begin the disc and two of these reprise at the end, while the flowing melody of “Lyric” anchors the disc in the middle. )

The folk roots show up particularly in "Thrace", which hints at the more traditional Greek setting for the lyra, the small upright fiddle that Sinopoulos plays. I get the impression that he is trying to escape the conservative expectations of his instrument, while still proud of these roots.

“Aegean Sea” – which names the lyra’s ‘stronghold’ area - sees the most rounded and genre-blended track, while “In Circles,” which begins with a borrowed bass riff, is perhaps the jazziest. “Street Dance,” the other speedy piece, uses just the same rhythms and chords as traditional Irish music, such as “Toss the Feathers” – although it does break down into a more improvisational pace before long. “Forever” is just plain lovely.

If that is not enough variety, the disc includes the occasional Balkan twist and the lyra can even take on rock’s Canterbury sound at its most languid.

This variety and tunefulness help to avoid the lyra over-dominating the sound. While it definitely takes centre-stage, with supportive and sensitive backing from Yann Keerim’s piano, Dimitris Tsekouras’s double bass and Dimitris Emmanouil’s drums, Sinopoulos draws enough emotions from it to keep the collection from becoming boring or samey.

Smart, smooth and elegant, this has a well-crafted balance of tunes and space. It really is a very fine album, certainly very enjoyable for anyone who loves jazz, but with much to excite world-music lovers and those of us who just love beautiful instrumental music.

Derek Walker

4.5 Tocks
Derek Walker