Savina Yannatou / Primavera en Salonica’s Songs of Thessaloniki

12th January 2016

Title: Songs of Thessaloniki

Label: ECM

Thessaloniki has been home to Greeks, Jews, Turks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Armenians, Macedonians and Pontiac Greeks. This album celebrates them all in this multilingual program.

There’s an almost Clannad-like make-up to this seven-piece group that rotates around the haunting vocal of Yannatou. She sings in an almost hesitant, yet slightly fragile manner. As if she is unsure how she will be received. As if her words might provoke an unwelcome reaction but she feels that she has to say them because, well, someone has to.

Her backing group largely play in sympathy to this style of delivery. Kostas Vomvolos plays the qanun and accordion, Yannis Alexandris is on oud and guitar, the violin is played by Kyriakos Gouventas, Harris Lambrakis is on nay, Michalis Siganidas handles the double bass while Kostas Theodorou is on percussion.

I’ve listed the players as they are printed on the rear of the CD packaging for a reason, so that you will not be mislead. On the face of it, this list looks like the accumulation of a lot of kit. You might think that this CD will go for the throat, that is a vocal-lead band is all clatter and noise. This is far from the truth. Each instrument is used here rather sparsely, acting as a complement to the vocal which is the king or, rather, queen of this album. The required instrument lies in wait, ready to add flavour to the vocal which is quietly dominant. Each is gently rolled out and, when done, gently rolled back again.

Yannatou’s subtle complexities are never masked. She is given all of the space and air she needs to express herself and deliver her message. Despite the odd high tempo upsurge, this album has a real pastoral atmosphere. This outfit is in no hurry to go. Yannatou has that ‘If the job’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing well’ philosophy.