It must have been 1998. I was a young student of pharmaceutics in Thessaloniki, Greece. At the time I was also a full time musician in various live rock clubs and bars in the city. The music scene in that place has always been thriving, which was also the reason I went there for studies: To get connected, gain experience and generally lay it down.
My acoustic duo partner, Vasilis, had started taking jazz lessons with a known jazz guitarist, so he invited me to a music festival in the Lazariston Monastery, an amazing place where the venue is actually the courtyard of a big monastery. We were all into heavy metal and deep into the grunge Seattle scene that was at its peak at the time, but still good music and good musicians was always sought after.
So we watch my friend’s guitar coach, and wow was he amazing, though I literally didn’t catch a note of what he was playing (still don’t, you must check him out, Kostas Maginas, amazing jazzman), and I’m like “a little bit of jazz goes a long way, I need some Layne Staley to get my head straight!” I turn to my friend and suggest we go but he is determined to see the show through, to my utmost frustration. So I turn to the stage, cursing him between my teeth – he drove the car we rode on to the place you see!
Then this band appears. Some plain looking blokes. At first I thought they were the sound crew. The guy set up a display of saxophones that looked impressive, but it intimidated me a bit. I couldn’t stand any more jazz soloing, especially saxophone!!
Then BOOM!!!! An amazing ⅞ traditional greek tempo, followed by an incredible groove from the band, saxophone leading with a very familiar melody to my ears. I was astonished and frozen as the notes and the groove were flying all around me like falling asteroids, in a frenzy of jazz – meets greek tradition. Who the hell are these guys and why don’t I know them??
The prominent leader – sax player – singer was doing incredible stunts playing two soprano saxophones at the same time, bagpipe style, playing melody on one and backing melodies on the other with annoying ease. The vocal harmonies sung by the whole band were spot on traditional. The jazz element was blending effortlessly with the music of Epirus and Macedonia in a funk fuelled frenzy of stomp – inducing groove. The band: Mode Plagal. A really well suited name for such a jazz machine.
So I became a fan immediately. And because after all those years they’ve passed the test of time and are still making music, albums and hitting stages all over the world, but are still very unrecognized to the extent of their magnitude, I thought I’d start my first official blog about them.
The Athens -based band was formed in 1990 by Thodoris Rellos (saxophone, vocals), Kleon Antoniou (guitar, vocals) and Takis Kanellos (drums). They were joined in 1995 by Antonis Maratos (originally percussion, later bass); in 1997 by Angelos Polychronou (percussion); and in 2000 by Florian Mikuta (keyboards). After two albums of instrumental music, Mode Plagal and Mode Plagal II, they added vocals for their third album, Mode Plagal III. In 2002, they collaborated with Turkish group Bosphorus to record the album Beyond the Bosphorus. (wikipedia)
They are considered to be a fusion jazz/world music band with a unique and distinctive sound. In the entirety of their work they’ve managed to incorporate elements of greek traditional music, balkan music, oriental music, reggae, rock, byzantine music, funk and blues into a jazz matrix, creating a masterly crafted personal sonic identity.
Mode Plagal II was released under Greek label Lyra, making #96 of the
World Music Charts Europe 2000.
Mode Plagal III was a big success for them, establish them as a driving force in the world music jazz scene, reaching #13 of the top 20 of World Music Charts Europe 2002 and #33 of the top 100 of the same charts the same year.
Beyond the Bosporus was released by Greek label Hitch Hyke and includes set to music poems by famous poet Georgios Seferis, Takis Syrellis, and Vasiliki Papageorgiou, who also sings on the album.
In 2008 they collaborate with the known traditional band Chainides and release under Music Box International the album “The descent of the jugglers.”
In 2010 they released “In the belly of the whale”, under Greek label Lyra.
In 2014 they collaborated with known Cretan traditional musician Psarantonis, and Chainides once more, to produce the album “Beyond the borders” via Music Links Knowledge.
Their collaborations include known Greek artists like Giota Vei, Savinna Giannatou, Eleni Tsaligopoulou, Theodosia Tsatsou, Dionisis Savvopoulos, Vasilis Skoulas and more.
Songs of theirs have been included in international song compilations like the spanish “Grecia – De Oriente y de Occidente”, “The Rough Guide to the Music of Greece” and more. Their live performances include numerous venues, clubs and festivals around Greece and are still going on, mesmerizing audiences.
What can I say, I’m a fan!! Check them out: