The Archilochos cultural society seems to always manage to persuade some musicians to come to Paros before Easter to give us a concert. This year we were most lucky to get Antonis Ladopoulos and Sami Amiris for an evening of jazz. Antonis has been here before — we heard him two years ago with Mimis Plessas and Vasilis Rakopoulos — but for me Sami is a new discovery. And what music they made!
Antonis plays straight jazz with passion, fluency and a big round tone. If you know the work of Branford Marsalis, you’ll have some idea of his sound and of the high level he has reached. Sami, on the other hand, is less jazz-swing oriented, and his style is clearly influenced by early modern classical music. I asked him about this during intermission, and he admitted to a passion for the piano music of Scriabin, which has also influenced Keith Jarrett.
The evening opened with Herbie Hancock’s jazz standard, “Maiden Voyage,” but it sounded nothing like Herbie’s cool version — it was more romantic, and freer. Antonis’ “Morning Waltz” followed, but this was more about dayspring reveries than a lilting dance. The audience was ready for something hot now, and we got it. I didn’t catch the title, but it was a modern take on 1930’s stride, in which Antonis revelled in his chops and Sami gave us a madly updated version of James P. Johnson mixed with Dave McKenna — the joint was jumpin’. But all the energy and virtuosity were musical, the high-speed lines were coherent and profluent and the duo’s rhythm was right on.
Modern jazz pianists generally derive much of their style from either Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner. I heard elements of both in Sami’s solos. But Evans predominated in the next number, Richie Beirach’s “Elm,” which many musicians play, with its slow throb, its dissonant fourths and seconds, its across-the-bar rhythm. To follow, Sami chipped in with a snappy tune, “Don’t Play It Again, Sam.” (“Play it again, Sam” is the popular misquotation from “Casablanca.”) Maybe Sami meant that he never plays the same thing twice — which is true.
Another of Antonis’ romantic tunes, “Little Flowers,’ changed the mood. This was followed by a witty rethinking of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” — you would be excused for not recognising it. Antonis’ elegy for his late wife was the concluding tune; he was too moved to reveal its title. The melody was simple, and the performance was full of tenderness; sincerity and deep emotion prevented sentimentality. Well, it was too plangent a mood in which to leave us, so for an encore the duo essayed a straightforward “Autumn Leaves,” which musicians like for its harmonic sequence and listeners for its sequential melody. It was cold and rainy out, but our blood was heated by grace under pressure, which is what successful improvisation in time achieves.
Except for my wife and I and a few of our students, the small audience was all Greek. I wonder where the foreigners were? There could be two explanations for their non-show. One, there was undeniably insufficient publicity by the Archilochos Society, famously lax in this respect. Two, jazz is art music, which requires full concentration; this is never easy, and so the music is rarely popular. I’d like to think the first was the reason. Antonis and Sami, who are passionate and skilful musicians, played their hearts out for nearly two hours, and too few listeners are the beneficiaries.
They will be back, so don’t miss it a second time.