A 2024 list of contemporary jazz high achievers reveals a surprisingly strong presence of Greek born contributors such as trumpet/flugelhorn player Andreas Polyzogopoulos and the double bassists Mihalis Kalkanis and Petros Klampanis. Theirs is music inspired by ancient mythical figures, nature, and traditional Greek music and dance. Apart from commonly used jazz instruments, its sounds might also come from the ancient Cretan lyra, the oud, the sometimes-ethereal sounds of a synthesizer, or the human voice. Andreas Polyzogopoulos was born in 1980 in Samiko, southwestern Greece, taking up guitar at the age of ten. While studying jazz as a 20-year-old in Athens he became enamoured with the music of Miles Davis, and in 2000 switched to playing trumpet. He later studied under Markus Stockhausen and Paolo Fresu. Polyzogopoulos’ playing has a warm ethereal quality, sometimes characterized by timbre variations, the use of electronic effects and sparseness. He has recorded some 80 albums to date, but surprisingly only four as leader. His latest recording Petrichor released in 2023 is comprised entirely of his original compositions and is an outstanding achievement. He explains that the name Petrichor is especially significant to him. It is a Greek word describing the scent from fallen rain on the parched ground of a Greek summer, signifying the coming of autumn. Polyzogopoulos associates these thoughts with memories of a petrichor at the end of summer 2003, when he was returning from a student workshop with Paolo Fresu in Sardinia. For the first time he could see his future pathway as a trumpet player. Polyzogopoulos’ double bassist of choice on Petrichor was Petros Klampanis, who was born in 1981 on the Ionian Island of Zakynthos and first discovered music as a four-year-old, playing his older sister’s keyboard. He later sang in local choirs but put his music aside to study mechanical engineering. At 20 he discontinued this to take up musical studies in Athens, furthering his studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory. In 2008 he completed a master’s degree in composition at the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York. In 2011 Klampanis recorded the first of his six albums to date as leader. His music is mainly self-composed and melody-driven with traditional or classical elements. His recordings reached a new peak with the 2022 release Tora (meaning ‘now’), a collation of primarily traditional Greek songs played by an ensemble which includes enchanting folk voices and the lute-like oud and laouto instruments. With its musical choices, the album recognizes that Greece is a confluence of Mediterranean and Balkan cultures. Mihalis Kalkanis, Athenian by birth, is a double bassist/composer whose music is experimental and unpredictable, often benefitting from skilful use of synthesizer and voice loops. Kalkanis secured his place in Greek contemporary music with his 2015 release World echoes in Athens. This was based on his in-situ field recordings of the singing and chanting of (illegal?) immigrants in secret ‘temples’ within Athens. To these, Kalkanis added his music to stunning effect.

Of further note is Kalkanis’ latest recording Emotions, a personal expression around matters of life and relationships. It was featured in the Jazz Sketches program of Wednesday 27th March and is replayable on demand.

By Robert Vale.