Kolida Babo ‘Kolida Babo’ LP (MIC) 4/5

Socratis Votskos and Harris P are a duo who blend the traditional folk music of their native Greece with that of Armenian music, a jazz sensibility and a soundscape of electronica. The pair recorded the music which makes up this album in a series of live take sessions over a period of years beginning at the night of ‘Kolida Babo’ in 2013. This is also the name of the earliest track on the album, the rest was recorded at Aridaia, Thessaloniki and Athens between 2015 and 2017. For the uninitiated, and I include myself ‘Kolida Babo’ is a festival of folk rituals, music and dance and also provides the duo with their name. Both musicians play the traditional double reeded Armenian duduk, Votskos also plays clarinet, soprano and baritone sax as well as electric bass and piano. Harris P plays Moog, Minimoog, Frame Drum, Roland keyboards and electronic percussion.

As the earlier of the recordings, ‘Kolida Babo’ has a noticeably different sonic quality to most of the rest of the album, with more focus on traditional instrumentation than electronic sounds, there are just two other tracks on the record that take a similarly acoustic approach. ‘Kolida Babo’ revolves around a phrase played on the soprano sax and bass before the introduction of the mournful and haunting tones of the duduk, at times the instrument could be mistaken for a human voice. This earlier track appears as the second selection on the recording.

We actually set off with Kolida Babo from ‘The Epirus Lodge’ This first track offers something resembling a subterranean heartbeat or pulse, the clarinet fuses jazz and folk melodies as it floats above these primordial tones, rising and falling as the pulse shifts.

‘Arabesque’ another of the more acoustic tracks builds gradually and beautifully intertwines harmonies with sax, clarinet and duduk. Drum and bagpipes are also woven into the mix creating a dense textural resonance.

I do feel l am on a journey with this recording, each track a specific location but at the same time part of an enigmatic territory. ‘Join the Moog’ brings a post-apocalyptic soundscape, a radio frequency modulates and seems to be seeking a rhythm or pulse. The duduk is calling once again with that sound which is so nearly a human vocal. We are drifting along accompanied it’s ambient breath. It could be a retro futuristic sci-fi movie soundtrack with this world meeting another. I could do with another ten minutes of this but the ending is much more abrupt.

Moods are directly contrasting in a couple of the song titles, ‘Kolida Grotesque’ and ‘Kolida Serenity’. ‘Kolida Grotesque’ is ushered in with an ambient electronic pulsation, ominous abstract sounds soon follow, acoustic and electronic notes almost indistinguishable. A baritone groove recalls King Crimson of the early 70s before a change of pace brings us full circle to the ambient sounds at the beginning. ‘Kolida Serenity’ is the third primarily acoustic piece which takes the sound right back down to earth. It isn’t all serenity though, the piece stealthily makes us aware of a brooding undertow.

We end this odyssey with ‘Exodus’ which offers us electronically shifting sands in a wide open space. A tune is formed tentatively but is received over the airwaves with a weak signal. It is echoed by the duduk, clarinet and saxophone, the piece is layered with the textural harmonies of these instruments. I can almost hear voices in some passages but am unable to make out what they are saying, it’s quite an eerie effect.

This is a highly idiosyncratic musical soundscape in which the duo have truly blended musical genres. Fortunately they have created something of a cross cultural love-in rather than a clash of civilizations.

James Read