Billy Pod ‘Drums to Heal Society’ LP/CD (Puzzlemusik) 4/5

Greek born and raised drummer Vassilis Podaras (aka Billy Pod) releases this his debut album on the Athens based Puzzlemusik record label, a diverse and progressive label set up by Christos Alexopoulos in 2006. This new artist to us at UK Vibe features a high calibre roster of mainly Athenian musicians, including guitarist Michalis Tsiftsis, bassist Kimon Karoutzos, pianist Yiannis Papadopoulos and Jannis Anastasakis adding electronic embellishments.

The album begins with ‘Void’, a short introductory composition of mostly drum textures with some lightly added electronic drones and effects. ‘Minor Mystery’ which was written by Billy with Yiannis Papadopoulos, is centred around guitarist Tsiftsis and both piano and Rhodes parts. The infections ostinato chord changes and solos are never over done, all being very lyrical and melodic in their presentation. ‘L’ is another guitar focussed number with further immaculate playing again by Tsiftsis. Title track ‘Drums To Heal Society’ actually features another drummer, the experimental drummer, percussionist and sound artist Stephanos Chytiris. His use of minimal percussive objects allows for an abundance of creativity which is displayed here. The added sound effects provided by Jannis Anastasakis, himself an accomplished guitarist, offers a somewhat Radiophonic Workshop experience to the piece.

The more radio friendly ‘Limit To Your Love’ features the vocals of Katerine Duska and is a remake of the 2007 Feist track that was later made famous via James Blake, with this version probably more influenced by the Blake cover than the original, with the ambient electronic tones mixed with acoustic and electric piano producing an electronic ballad of sorts but with jazzy undercurrents. Personal favourite ‘Connection’ with its dynamic arrangement, offers bassist Kimon Karoutzos a time to shine as does ’Billy Pod’, the most straight-ahead jazz track of the set as it stays within the classic trio formation, but with George Kontrafouris on piano.

As per any respectable bandleader, Vassilis Podaras (as an artist name one prefers this) is as comfortable in the background as he is in the foreground, insomuch that it would be difficult to identify the leader for the project (without reading the LP title). There’s a community spirit here with all of the group ensemble contributing the appropriate amount to the album, especially as the arrangements and solos are relatively uncluttered, and thus, possessing a genuinely live feel rather than a studio production quality. The mix of traditional jazz instrumentation with electronica, although in a more subdued fashion in comparison to other more electronic-based jazz records provides a relatively nuanced approach to the project.

Drummer led projects are not always successful, but in recent years the increase in focus maintained by drummers and percussionist has created an interesting time for contemporary beat smiths. But to further capitalize on this, with the younger jazz consumer moving increasingly towards the vinyl format, a short limited edition run of say 300 copies may possibly help to broaden its reach – but this may be something to consider in the future. But what’s remarkable about regularly discovering these new artists from around the world on an almost weekly basis, is one then learns about another new set of musicians who also have their own separate projects for us to discover. It can be difficult to allow time for all this new music, but one feels it’s better to have a surplus than a shortage.

Damian Wilkes