Nicky Skopelitis / Floros Floridis / Okay Temiz

June 16, 2003

Our trip so far

M Records 5204876 01013

F.L.O.R.O. L.ow O.der R.oll O.ver I

j.n.d. re-records 002

Dedicating yourself to free music can be a thankless task. Not only are audiences scarce and recognition slow in coming, but the practitioner often finds himself isolated from other players and having to travel far from home to forge connections.

That sort of personal scenario played itself out many times in the early days of the New Thing and EuroImprov. Even today excellent improvisers like tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan of New Orleans or reedman Phil Hargreaves of Liverpool, England often must travel to larger population centres to hook up with like-minded players.

If that seems like an encumbrance, imagine what it must be like for woodwind player Floros Floridis from Thessalonki, who almost single-handedly waves the jazz/improv flag in Greece.

Greek Jazz? The phrase itself sounds like an oxymoron, even though over the past decade, it’s been acknowledged that master musicians can come as easily from Germany (East and West), Italy, Canada, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa as from either side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Still, any one of those countries was known to have a long, classical or rhythmic history. But most North Americans’ only association with Hellenic sounds was what they heard in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Never on Sunday or the overwrought pop symphonies of Yanni and Vangelis.

Floridis, who with pianist Sakis Papadimitriou made Greece’s first Free Jazz record in 1979 [!], has dealt with his isolation by writing for film, theatre and dance performances and by spreading his talents among many bands, including a German trio with the late bassist Peter Kowald and drummer Günter Sommer, the Inter-Balkan Orchestra, the Florina Brass Band and the two combos here.

OUR TRIP SO FAR, matches up the Hellenic musicmaker with two foreign heavy hitters, American-Greek guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, best known for his work with fellow guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell and tenor titan Peter Brötzmann; and to show how music transcends political boundaries, Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz, a longtime associate of cornetist Don Cherry. The results meld Greco-Turkish and rock influences with improvised sounds.

F.L.O.R.O. on the other hand, finds Floridis plus a quintet of little-known –outside of Greece that is — local musicians. Rejuvenation of some traditional Greek songs, all arranged by the saxman, takes place, with jazz, Balkan, rock and free music added to the jaunty, curvaceous themes. Balkan influences aren’t that odd, since geography places Greece and its Balkan neighbors in close proximity. They share some of the same melodies and many of the same instruments.

An example of what you can do with this blend of instruments is demonstrated most clearly on tunes like “Seriani” and “Stergios”. The former, a uncomplicated andante line, finds guitarist Vangelis Tsotridis picking out muted, Johnny Smith-type chords as drummer Nikos Psofogiorgos rumbles from his kit, while the horns — trumpeter Pandelis Stoikos and clarinetist Vasilis Komatas as well as Floridis on alto saxophone — blend into a reedy squeeze-box sound. As the horns work off one another in counterpoint, woody clarinet tones and trilling alto lines mix with distorted guitar reverb and a walking bass line. By the end, though, intimations of the folkloric theme have been subverted by a stop-time ending with echoes of Ornette Coleman’s compositions.

Coleman’s Prime Time band and Miles Davis’ electric period bands appear to be the models for the later tune. In it, legato clarinet lines mix with guitar fills that sound like they migrated from BITCHES BREW. As growling, gritty resonances from the alto man give way to deeper trills and split tones, the piece picks up Klezmer-Balkan overtones even as Tsotridis leans into his wah wah pedal and Psofogiorgos’ press rolls are more Baker (Ginger) then Blakey (Art).

Taking to heart the lesson fellow reedist Julius Hemphill expressed in several of his longer compositions, Floridis knows that as long as the rhythm is catchy and constant, the soloist has freedom to do as he wishes. Thus, there are times the guitarist produces the sort of effects with his pedals that sound as if they belong on a Headhunters’ session, while the honks, snorts, trills and drones from the horn section make the tunes appear to be an admixture of Free Jazz and Greek wedding ditties.

The tightness, but reticence of the other horn men leads you to speculate that they may be part of the Florina Brass Band, which is thanked in the booklet notes. And it must be admitted, that after a while to non-Virgilian ears, as with pieces built on reggae or raga scales, a certain sameness does creep into the sounds here.

Whether melancholy or exhilarated, the guitar and percussion work here is also a bit faceless, with the rhythm partners doing more decorating and backing then idea contribution. That changes enormously on the other CD, since Skopelitis and Temiz are anything but shy.

Running through 10 improvisations in about 48 minutes, OUR TRIP SO FAR’s emphasis is on exhibition as well as improvisation. Plus there are plenty of percussive colors to choose from since Temiz shows up with a cembe, an electric berimbao, a guica and an electronic pyramid as well as his regular kit. All the instruments seem to be played through electronic processing as well, with certain tracks even featuring Floridis on both bass clarinet and flute or clarinet at the same time. Overdubbing definitely took place in the studio, unless of course the reedist has the powers of a Greek god rather than a mortal.

Floridis is most impressive in non-doubled human form, though, such as on “Stars”, where his deep-toned, woody clarinet tone is mated with Skopelitis’ treatments that inflate guitar tones into massed, room-filling organ chords. Meanwhile Temiz has come up with sounds that appear alternately to be dice rolling or conga drum whacking. Adagio, “Greetings from overseas” finds Temiz shaking a bell tree to mix it up with what appears to be an acoustic guitar pealing out space-filling dissonant tones. On bass clarinet Floridis moves up and down in pitch as he plays, from chalumeau register to screech mode.

Queer, elf-like voices, ringing bells, what seem to be literal bubbles and electronic wiggles that could come from the pyramid or bow-and-gourd berimbao don’t seem to faze him at all on “Kula Baba” Imperturbably he calmly plays his clarinet even when Skopelitis lets loose with a screaming electric guitar solo.

Most of the time as well, the overdubbed reed lines give Floridis a chance to add glissandos and other extended techniques to the traditional Greek-influenced melodies; he even sounds as if he’s playing a melodica at one point. But there are also times where the rhythm team combine for sounds that seems to owe more to ProgRock than the Penloponnisos peninsula, and you start to remember that Vangelis got his start in the band Aphrodite’s Child with histrionic Greek vocalist Demis Roussos.

Despite these minor drawbacks, either of the CDs can serve as a memorable introduction to Floridis’ unique work, with the more overtly Greek F.L.O.R.O having a slight edge. Remember, you don’t have to be wary of the gifts that this Greek bears.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fly: 1.Pustseno 2. Sarki (to Yiorgos Fillippidis) 3. Lahana 4. Seriani 5. Stergios 6. Pavlos melas 7.Tis fotias (to Stamatis Bililis)

Personnel: Fly Pandelis Stoikos (trumpet); Vasilis Komatas (clarinet); Floros Floridis (alto saxophone); Vangelis Tsotridis (electric guitar); Nektarios Karatzis (bass); Nikos Psofogiorgos (drums)

Track Listing: Trip: 1. Nar cicegi 2. Pitch black 3. The ever sound 4. Happy elephant 5. Stars 6. Kulla baba 7. Night falls 8. Greetings from overseas 9. The light blue above 10. Gringos

Personnel: Trip: Floros Floridis (alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute); Nicky Skopelitis (electric guitars); Okay Temiz (drums, cembe, electric berimbao, guica, electronic pyramid)