Improvising at Barakos
j.n.d. re-records 003

F.ictional L.ies O.n R.ight O.ccasions II
j.n.d. re-records 004

Good taste is timeless, as the slogan states, and so is good improvising. More than that, it’s also timelessly distinctive, as these discs show.

Despite the sequential catalogue numbers, these duo CDs, which both feature multi-reedman Floros Floridis, were actually recorded nearly a quarter century apart. IMPROVISING AT BARKOS from 1979, with the reedist partnered with pianist Sakis Papadimitriou, was initially a double LP, and has since been celebrated as the first record of free improv in Greece. The other CD, recorded in January 2003, finds Floridis maintaining his improvisational integrity, but keeping up with the times in a partnership with Babis Papadopoulos on electric and acoustic guitars, loops and effects. A multimedia CD it also includes a video of the musicians in Floridis’ hometown of Thessalonki.

Since their meeting at Barkos, Papadimitriou has forged a longtime partnership with local percussionist Lefteris Agouridakis, and worked with other Europeans like French saxophonist Daunik Lazro and Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro. A pointillistic stylist, he mixes internal piano preparations, classical tropes and folkloric references to complement the multi-reedist’s work here. Floridis, who solos on soprano and alto saxophones and clarinet, has since intensified his free improv skills with people like the late German bassist Peter Kowald and German drummer Günter Sommer, and forged rhythmic, world music connections with American guitarist Nicky Skopelitis and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz.

That was far in the future in 1979, though and this CD consecrates nearly 79 [!] minutes to the unparalleled freedom the pianist and reedman were enjoying for the first time. Created only a few years after the ouster of a military dictatorship, Floridis and Papadimitriou may have tried to pack as much as they could into the disc for fear that they might never be able to play as freely again.

Certainly the influences and innovations abound throughout. There are times when Floridis trills deep into the horn, replicating the sound of a Hellenic shepherd for instance, and others where his harsh, screaming aviary multiphonics on alto seem to have as their starting point crackling Jackie McLean-like reed stabs into the New Thing. On one tune he creates pretty, flute-like cadenzas, on another aviary chirps and peeps give away to irregular vibrations and slip-slides up the scale.

Meanwhile Papadimitriou’s piano does more than provide a carpet of keyboard sounds to support Floridis’ improvisations; he uses his skills to practically renovate the entire room within which the saxman is improvising. To keep things moving he persistently plays double-time arpeggios; conversely, the tempo sometimes drags when his impressionistic chordal patterns become closer to Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” rather than Bill Evans’ “Letter To Evan”.

On the final tune the pianist extracts sustained chords from deep within the piano innards, building up suggestions of dread and menace. Notes are sharp and mechanized as if he was pumping a player piano. Meanwhile the saxman is emphasizing squealing animal sounds and note flurries that are double-tongued in a more comfortable range when Papadimitriou produces some two-handed boogie woogie. “Improvisation d plus the national rock’n’roll” ends with a simple blues and a right-handed variation of the theme.

IMPROVISING AT BARKOS’ main drawback is its extreme length. With only two instruments on tap, following the course for its entire length reveals some sameness that likely isn’t as obvious in shorter doses.

These doses include tunes like “Folk Improvisation”, where the keyboardist’s work ranges from strummed chords to pounding, mechanized, interface, probably resulting from stopped hammers. At one point Floridis’ squealing reed pitches combine with Papadimitriou’s circular glissandos to conjure up a line that could be burlesquing an aria from “Carmen”. But the sound spectrum is such that Papadimitriou could be playing a guitar rather than a piano.

There’s no doubt on the second CD that Babis Papadopoulos is playing a guitar, when he isn’t playing loops and, effects, that is, and Floridis adds bass clarinet and overdubs to his arsenal as well here. Nearly 25 years of collaboration and refinement has also gone into Floridis’ improvising skills, so that this session is also tighter than the previous one. Plus the variety of sounds and genres hinted at on BARAKOS are better expressed electronically.

On “Talking lines”, for instance, the folk-blues created by Papadopoulos and his bottleneck guitar playing don’t sound as much like Greek rebetikas, but as a Hellenic twist on the Mississippi Delta sound. As his effects move to the foreground, Floridis appears to be playing a electrified and amplified clarinet, alternating sweet, contralto sounds with bird-like yawps.

“Fearless Guys” begins with deep, resonating, bass clarinet swoops leavened by wiggling fingerpicking and backed by loops. The reed’s restrained split tone are sometimes echoed by guitar chords until Floridis squeals out altissimo lines, while fuzztone from Papadopoulos almost make it appear they’ve gone into Boogie Rock territory. Perhaps Floridis’ experience with Skopelitis, a Bill Laswell acolyte, inspired the dense droning reed tones that mix with wah-wah pedal effects.

Elsewhere, as on “Walking on the Edge” and “Jammin’ flees”, the output turns downright folksy — with a twist. On the former, for instance, as circular breathed multiphonics from Floridis invested with irregular vibrations get softer and softer, the guitarist accompanies with mid-Atlantic rhythm guitar licks, sorta like Moussaka meets Stax-Volt. Both instruments become almost stentorian until the piece fades. On the later, Papadopoulos appears to be finger picking an amplified bouzouki, while Floridis puffs out a tone that could as easily come from a harmonica. After a variation of trading fours, the reed line becomes more legato and the string accompaniment could be used to back up a cowboy singer.

Finally there are tunes like “Lullaby for a Dragon” where the saxman takes advantage of overdubbing, and circles and echoes his bass clarinet pedal point with double-tongued, clarinet and soprano saxophone lines. He becomes his own World Saxophone Quartet, then gets into false registers and spetrofluctuation, seemingly playing through a detached mouthpiece. Meanwhile Papadopoulos’ elongated lead lines contain so many notes in rapid succession that they could arise from an electric piano not a guitar.

Insight into the impressive work of Greece’s most consistent experimental reedist, F.ICTIONAL L.IES O.N R.IGHT O.CCASIONS II is a session for all improv fanciers, while IMPROVISING AT BARKOS, with its undoubted historical importance, could be a second choice for many.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Improvising: 1. Improvisation a plus opening and closing 2. Almost Kalamatianos 3. Wave 4. Folk improvisation 5. F2 extract 6. KJ 7. Alto 0,5 8. Improvisation c 9. Intermission 10. Improvisation d plus the national rock’n’roll

Personnel: Improvising: Floros Floridis (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Sakis Papadimitriou (piano)

Track Listing: F.ictional: 1. Rough options 2. Lullaby for a Dragon 3. Jammin’ flees 4. As I 5. Talking lines 6. Folk etc 7. Hommage to Tin Pan Alley 8. Fearless Guys 9. Walking on the Edge 10. Smoothing

Personnel: F.ictional: Floros Floridis (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet); Babis Papadopoulos (electric and acoustic guitars, loops, effects)