In my never ending quest to find jazz that is beautiful and moody but also unlike anything I already own, I present the Metamodal (CD, digital), the second album by the Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet, on which the titular Greek lyra player once again teams with a trio of more typical jazz musicians, and comes up with something rather unique and beautiful.
Photo Credit © Tryfon Tsatsaros / ECM Records
For those unfamiliar with the lyra —
which included me before I listened to this album — it is (as you can see in the photo above) a pear-shaped three-string bowed instrument that is about the size of a violin, but played more like a viola. Though it has a much more Mediterranean feel about it than a violin or viola. Or a pear. It’s also not to be confused with the other Greek lyra, which is a small harp-like instrument, or the Italian lira, which is also a pear-shaped, three-string, and bowed, and thus probably a relative of some sort.
As for Metamodal, the music on this nine-track collection is anchored by the austere playing of pianist Yann Keerim, double bassist Dimitris Tsekouras, and drummer Dimitris Emmanouil, masters all. It is not unlike what labelmates Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette have done on such recent albums as Somewhere and After The Fall.
Though the better comparison for the Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet and Metamodal would probably be Anouar Brahem’s Blue Maqams, on which a similar configuration of piano, bass, and drums is teamed with the stringed sounds of an oud, yet another pear-shaped string instrument, though one that’s strummed not bowed, and from the middle-east, not from Northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Sokratis Sinopoulos also doesn’t always play his lyra the way Anouar Brahem plays his oud: like he’s carefully contemplating his place in the world. While that is the approach he takes on such Metamodal tunes as the album’s opener “Lament,” his playing on such songs as “Walking” and “Metamodal I – Liquid” are decidedly less moody at times.
Which is too bad, because when he does get moody — such as in the middle of the song “Transition” — it’s some of his best work on Metamodal. The same also goes for when Keerim, Tsekouras, and Emmanouil go it alone in that same song. The problem being that, in other parts of “Transition,” they’re a lot peppier, even triumphant sounding. And while Sokratis Sinopoulos and friends are deft at making those tonal changes seamlessly, it still doesn’t work if, like me, you’re looking for something more atmospheric and dark than, well, peppy and almost poppy.
Thankfully, the downers outnumber the uppers on Metamodal. Unlike the first one, both the epic “Metamodal II – Illusions” and the slow moving “Metamodal III – Dimensions” are hauntingly beautiful, while other standout tracks on the album include “Red Thread” (on which Keerim sounds like he’s crying through his piano) and the equally sad sounding “Mnemosyne,” which ends the album. It is during these tunes that Sokratis Sinopoulos plays more deliberately, and is matched in tone and approach by Keerim, Tsekouras, and Emmanouil, and Metamodal is all the better for it.
By teaming the typical acoustic jazz of piano, bass, and drums…
with a Mediterranean-flavored bowed string instrument, the Sokratis Sinopoulos Quartet have created something rather unique on Metamodal. (Doubly so if you, like me, you missed their first album, Eight Winds.) And while it may not be as moody and atmospheric as much as I would like, it certainly doesn’t sound like anything else I own.