Showcases the makings of a great modern jazz group whose potential is only hinted at in this limited format.
Seven-inch singles are a hyper-specific format that long reigned as one of the prime movers of radio pop. While other genres have favored the small vinyl discs, the limitations of length quickly frustrated musicians of any style with a tendency to push a composition past five minutes. It’s a bit curious, then, that the debut release from the Greece-based jazz quartet led by saxophonist Sokratis Votskos would choose a release vehicle that seems so inherently at odds with their style of modal improvisation. Taking these two tracks at face value, this single showcases the makings of a great modern jazz group whose potential is just hinted at on these compositions.
One of the key identifying factors and biggest strengths of the Votskos Quartet is their cool, simplistic sound. Outside of obvious advances in mixing quality and a more academic style of playing, the pure sonics here wouldn’t sound out of place next to a trumpet-less Miles Davis group circa Filles de Kilimanjaro or a mellower, less explosive version of a late John Coltrane album. In a more contemporary vein, the slickness of groups like The Bad Plus or The Mattson 2 appears, though Votskos’ sound is more café-ready than the former and less rockist and self-consciously schtick-filled than the latter. The quartet strikes a balance between agreeable textures and harmonies (no extended skronking or serious rhythmic ambiguity) and explorative interest, even if just in small instances, the group is no stranger to “playing out.”
The B-side “Sevenates” continues in the long jazz tradition of naming your composition after whatever atypical time signature it features–here, an angular 7/8. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the Votskos quartet pulls off this rhythmic trick with ease. This is accomplished especially through the work of drummer Kostas Anastasiadis, whose heavy, splashy playing helps offset the plunky mathematics that risk taking over the quartet’s casual feel. While the quartet does excel as a group, Anastasiadis shines throughout as an individual, both bolstering the gestures of the other three musicians and still letting loose his affinity for controlled chaos.
Whether out of necessity or choice, Votskos’ group is at least slightly if not severely hindered by the format, which packs each composition down to three or four minutes. There are several videos on YouTube where “Almopian Etude” is drawn out well past 10 minutes, giving the quartet room to explore spacious intros and outros, extended solos and more adventurous toying with harmonic material. The briefer vinyl version succinctly highlights the fantastically sinister groove and does an admirable job of condensing these musician’s strengths into a radio-ready size, best heard in the flirtations with loose, nearly atonal group playing near in the track’s final minute.
Still, there’s so much pure skill and talent in the Votskos Quartet that the inability to truly get lost in extended playing feels like a missed opportunity. Hopefully, the single is just a teaser for something more expansive and more transcendental down the line.