Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thessaloniki ’18 on FS: In Situ

Thessaloniki and Athens are sort of like Chicago and New York. Even though the former is usually overshadowed by the latter, they can at least lay claim to having a distinctive avant-garde jazz scene all their own. Indeed, a free improvisational music scene exploded in the Aegean city after the fall of the military regime and it has held on ever since. Although they use the term “jazz” intermittently, the Free Jazzers discuss in depth the art and practice of improvisation, as well as some of their shared history in Chryssa Tzelepi & Akis Kersanidis’s In Situ, which streams for free until Sunday on Festivalscope’s public facing platform.

Their ethos is free and experimental, but you can still hear a good deal of structure in the music documented in situ, in In Situ. Thanks to a few practically-underground clubs, like pianist Sakis Papadimitriou’s hole in the wall, the music had an infrastructure to provide gigging and learning opportunities. We hear him in a variety of contexts, including plucking the piano strings in a very outside performance, but going inside during the film’s surprisingly swinging closer.

Tzelepi and Kersanidis introduce us to many colorful figures, including Gianni Lenoci, who also experiments with treated pianos, as well as practicing Butch Morris’s conduction techniques of big band conducting. Drummer Floros Floridas is Papadimitrou’s frequent duo partner, photographer, Aris Georgiou is sort of the Francis Wolff of their scene and graphic designer Dimitris Arvanitis is the Reid Miles.

There are also a couple ringers of note. German drummer Gunther “Baby” Summer is a former East German, who originally discovered jazz through Willis Conover’s Voice of America broadcasts and now regularly collaborates with Greek jazz musicians. He is also quite stylistically flexible—his nickname is a reference to an early hero, New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds. We also see parts of a command performance by Art Ensemble of Chicago veteran Roscoe Mitchell, backed up by many now familiar Greek jazz musicians.

In Situ is a remarkably accessible introduction to free jazz and free improvisation. These musicians are definitely playing outside—and flying high without safety nets—but they never sound abrasive. Even if audiences do not fall in love with what they hear, it should sufficiently stretch out their ears to widen their potential listening spectrum. Frankly, it is a shame this film stands virtually zero chance of securing theatrical distribution in America (seriously, a documentary on Greek free jazz improvisors). Tzelepi and Kersanidis also earn credit showing a bit of style in the way they frame interview sequences, which is a plus. Recommended for anyone interested in adventurous music, In Situ streams free of charge on the civilian Festivalscope until Sunday (3/25), as part of their collection of films from this year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.