Songlines Magazine Top of the World (Avgi, Live in Heraklion Walls)
A return to traditional roots from the Cretan lyra master
Lyra virtuoso Stelios Petrakis is one of several talented young musicians to have emerged from the teaching and performance workshops run by multi-instrumentalist Ross Daly since 1999. It’s indicative of the parlous state of Greece’s recording industry, and of Petrakis’ accessibility, that his recent output has been on French labels Buda and Accords Croises.
Avgi is an altogether more muscular outing than Kismet, Petrakis’ 2005 collaboration with Iranian percussionist Bijan Chemirani. It displays an acoustic quartet returning explicitly to Cretan roots in both traditional and new pieces, performed live in Heraklion and Athens. In addition to Petrakis on lyra (a three-stringed, fretted lap fiddle), there are the singing brothers Andonis and Giorgos Stavrakakis on laouto and mandolin, plus Thanassis Mavrokostas contributing mandoúra, an indigenous double-reed instrument. It’s good to hear – albeit only briefly – the mandolin and laoúto played melodically, not merely bashing out chords to provide rhythm as in most mainstream Cretan performances. Particularly eerie is ‘Avgi ts’Avgis tha Sikotho’, a rizítiko (slow patriotic melody), famously recorded by Yannis Markopoulos and Nikos Xylouris in 1974 during the waning months of the colonels’ junta. A half-hour bonus DVD reprises four of the concert tracks. Not only do we get to witness Thanassis Mavrokostas’ acrobatic footwork, we get to appreciate his skirling mandoúra and lyroúkla, a gigantic cello-lyra hybrid.