Valia Calda ‘Methexis’ CD/DIG (Private Press) 4/5

A real discovery here and two Greek brothers Ziarkas, bassist Thodoris and guitarist Nikos, have come up with a small-scale gem of a quartet album that has all the strengths of a classic ECM recording, yet operates separately. Mediterranean folk music meets acoustic jazz and the combination makes for a scintillating exchange of ideas. The rationale behind the album is clear from the title which means a ‘coming together’ and offers a more utopian vision for solving twenty-first century issues, especially in the Mediterranean nations on both sides, of migration, exile and social struggle.

Full marks first of all to engineer and assistant George and Tasos Botis for creating such a wonderful recording sound. Acoustic bass and bass clarinet working in tandem is just one of the endearing features of this recording and on the melodic ‘Exiles’ the intimate rapport between the two is outstanding before trumpeter Sam Warner then soars off into a plaintive solo. Arguably the strongest number of all is, ‘Trip For Nothing’, which has a simply melody that is beautifully performed by the quartet and with the clarinet and trumpet playing off one another. The influence of the Balkan folk music tradition is clear on ‘Typo’, which is a mournful tune with duets between acoustic bass, guitar and trumpet, while on the expansive opener, ‘Dilek Dogan’, bass clarinet and trumpet combine effectively.

The band departs from an all acoustic sound on one piece only, ‘Gorge’, which hints at different avenues that Valia Calda might wish to explore in future albums. Here, the use of space is dissected with a brooding bass clarinet and guitar sound that comes across as a re-visiting of the ‘Bitches Brew’ era, and this more experimental approach works well and adds a new dimension to the album as a whole. One of the year’s hidden discoveries and a slow burner of an album that should see it occupy more than just this writer’s end of year best of list. The May launch of the album was in London, at the Total Refreshment Centre, and further details of the band are available at: www.valiacaldamusic.com

Tim Stenhouse