Like Jason and the Argonauts, Spiros Exaras is leading his World-Jazz Ensemble across the Aegean for an adventure in sound. As the title Phrygianics portends, you will be whisked away to a world full of sweetness and fantasy within the backdrop of the exotic Mediterranean night. This album succeeds in achieving that special blend of modern to traditional, playful to somber, and Eastern to Western that so many Jazz musicians in the past have failed at. By combining his Classical guitar mastery, his thorough knowledge of Jazz harmonies, and his instinctual flair for the exotic rhythms and sounds of his native Greece, Exaras makes World Jazz into something more than just the usual hokey attempt at throwing different sounds and styles together; yes, the album actually sounds good!
For instance, on the eighth track, Thrace Bop, the fast and vibrant opening melody is played in 7/8 with Bournias doubling on the Greek clarinet, but then it switches seamlessly to 4/4 swing time for the guitar and piano solos, where both Exaras and Hey show formidable skill at laid back Jazz phrasing and articulation. The surprises don’t end there though, as the next song, Three Years Ago, is a sweet and convincing bossa played fingerstyle by Exaras on a nylon-string Classical guitar.
The blending of Western and Eastern flavors, whether it is an electric Jazz guitar interrupted by a Zurna (on Virtue Is Gone, the sixth track), or Tuncboyaciyan’s ominous, trill-filled chant preceding the main theme of the title track, never sounds contrived or out of place. With Phrygianics
, Exaras and his Ensemble accomplish the Olympian task of forging a Jazz/World Music combination worthy of the Gods themselves.