There are no better, or more delicate, old symbols for common ground across boundaries than Constantinople Istanbul and Bosporus: Asia and Europe, Orient and Occident. This is exactly where you would suppose to find a band like "Mode Plagal". The recent record the band recorded together with the Turkish group Bosphorus ("Tou Bosporou to pera", i.e. Beyond the Bosphorus) was well placed in the main stores.
Mode Plagal Logo
The border-dissolving music of the 6-piece group Thodoris Rellos on sax, Kleon Antoniou on guitar, Florian Mikouta (keyboard), Antonis Maratos (bass), Angelos Polychronou (perc) and Takis Kanellos (drums) brings to mind an anecdote told by Ross Daly about an Irish tune he used to play in Greece which the audience took for some typical but unknown Greek melody. Is it possible to play, say, an Indian tune, in a Greek way? Often such connections are far-fetched; at best resulting in global music that is all and nothing. Well, not in every case...
Thomas Götzelt talked to Takis Kanellos for Jazzdimensions
Thomas: You are on tour quite a lot. What's about your impressions? How did you experience the different European audiences?
Takis: It has been our great pleasure to perform in front of different audiences in Europe or elsewhere. People seem to enjoy a lot, and we always get good feedback from them. After the concerts, many come to ask about our music and it is very true that our fan club has grown larger ever since.
Thomas: The name of the group, "Mode Plagal", refers to one mode of the medieval liturgy. Is Byzantine tradition programmatical in your music?
Takis: In a way it is programmatical, because the band was established at a period when we all had started studying Byzantinian music, so our name is from that, like, in "Mode Plagal I", the piece called "Efrixen I gi" ("The earth was horrified"). Anyhow Greek traditional and Byzantine have so much in common that anyone interested in the first, should know about the second.
Bosphorus & Mode Plagal - "Tou Bosporou to pera"
Thomas: Does your recent record "Tou Bosporou to pera" mark a break with its predeccessors "Mode Plagal I" to "III"? More than the older records it seems to make clear that your music is about crossing borders in time and space...
Takis: Actually, we don't consider "Beyond the Bosphorus" our fourth record but rather a colaboration. Besides, we hope that soon we will make "Mode Plagal IV". Anyhow, it has been very inspiring for us to work with Nikiforos Metaxas, Vassiliki Papageorgiou and all those great Turkish musicians, and we look forward to "cross these borders in time and space" again in another project with Bosphorus. It is our honour to be able to cooperate in a project about Bosphorus.
Yes, we can say Greek music owes quite a lot to Oriental traditions, because Greek traditional music has it's roots in Byzantine, which in turn has it's roots in ancient Greek music, itself being the result of the knowledge ancient Greeks gathered through experimenting, but also through studying the traditions of other civilizations in the neighbourhood, like Egypt, Persia, Syria etc.
Thomas: Your music cannot easily be boiled down to "fusion". Maybe your sense of humour, figuring in pieces like "To gramma", a caring letter of Rellos' mama set to music, saves you from taking things for granted musically.
Takis: First of all, thanks for the compliment! It is very true that we members of Mode Plagal share the same sense of humour, and also that we can't see our music without it. An academic approach has no place in our efforts. After all, we agree with Arthur Koestler's saying that "civilisation and sense of humour go together".
Well, there is no better answer to your question than Karl Heinz Stockhausen's saying that "every human being carries inside him the sounds and the rhythms of the whole world", which is a phrase we have used in almost every situation needed. However, the artistic succession of a global mix kind of thing experiment, is not automatic, but is set to the individual leader's, or producer's, player's etc taste.
Thomas: How did you come together? How do your individual styles affect the music of the group?
Takis: We started the group in 1990 as a trio, with Thodoris Rellos (sax), Kleon Antoniou (guitar) and Takis Kanellos (drums). Actually we knew each other from 1980 and had been together in various bands. Thodoris Rellos was more close to jazz, greek traditional and Byzantine music, Kleon Antoniou to soul rock and Rembetika music, and Takis Kanellos to funk, rock and jazz. "Mode Plagal I" is a blend of that, we can say.
While making "Mode Plagal I", multi-instrumentalist Antonis Maratos entered the band (also appearing on some tracks) as a percussionist, and moved to bass after two years, with the addition of Angelos Polychronou in percussion. Under this status we made "Mode Plagal II". Later again, Manos Saridakis entered on Fender Rhodes and Hammond, and we recorded "Mode Plagal III". On that album, Florian Mikouta appeared on one track on keyboards (that's when Saridakis emigrated to the USA), and is our keyboardist ever since.
Well, now combining Antonis Maratos' unique approach to music (through his various studies in classical, jazz, and eastern traditions he's also an excellent ud player), with Angelos Polychronou's special touch (having graduated from music school and having studied Byzantinian music but also latin percussion), with Florian Mikouta's Romanian and funk-jazz musical treasure, and with those of the three founding members mentioned before, we have what we call our music. When in the process of making it, each one of us brings elements from his own personal style, and after various agreements and diagreements, we end up with some sort of plan, which on the way may get a little different etc…. Not an easy job at all.
Thomas: The contributions of guest musicians like Savina Gianatou, Eleni Tsaligopoulou, Theodosia Tsatsou, and Giota Vei add to your latest record "Mode Plagal III" some experimental touch. Especially Giannatou's vocal acrobatics on "Kalanta Thrakis" which remind me strongly of Susan Deihim is something I did not expect from her.
Takis: Yes, we enjoy experimenting, and we were very fortunate to have these great singers in the studio with us in concerts, too! and things like Savina Giannatou's vocals is what we were expecting from her.
Thomas: "Kalamatianos", which you dedicated to Charlie Parker, is certainly one of the best known Greek pieces. Without overinterpreting, what does it have to do with Bebop?
Takis: Yes, we wanted to pay tribute to these great musicians. Well, in "Kalamatianos" the sax's phrasing is in a way a reminder of a jazz kind of thing, but the sound also does, maybe because it was recorded with a cassette walkman that was placed under the ride cymbal. We just liked it.
Thomas: Over the years in your records there are some recurrent pieces taken up again, like "Ocean" on both your first and last records. Another example is "Kalanta". Just some favorite tunes of yours, or rather sort of reflection and retrospection?
Takis: Favourite tunes, with a sense maybe , of uncompletion, in the first recordings. Which may be fullfilled in a third recording, or fourth...
Thomas: What are your plans for the near future? Besides recording your new album will there be some cooperation with other groups?
Takis: Besides recording our new album, we plan to cooperate on a new project with "Bosphorus".
CD: Bosphorus & Mode Plagal - "Tou Bosporou to pera"
(Hitch Hyke/Choice Music Lift 089)
Mode Plagal im Internet: www.modeplagal.gr
Choice Music im Internet: www.choicemusic.nl
Fotos: Mode Plagal; many thanks to Thalia Iakovidou (management)