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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Akira Sakata Entasis Quintet, Live in Athens 4.12.2022

Akira Sakata
By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Even though I was really eager to catch this quintet live for the first time, I was walking towards the venue (a wine bar come music venue named Tanini my love) with a heavy head, especially thinking that our friend, the drummer Christos Yermenoglou, who passed away recently, would not be playing this night. But the music was so uplifting, full of energy.

But I should start differently.

Living on the peripheries, like us in Greece on the margins of Europe (add to that the total lack of any kind of improvised music due to the Covid dystopia), makes gigs like this (long in the wait as it was supposed to happen in 2020) very important to us and something that will not be followed by another one next week. There’s a feeling of urgency, of the good old “I have to be there”. Akira Sakata is also a big reason for this, but you already know who he is, so I won’t get into that.

The quintet apart from Sakata on sax, clarinet, bells and voice is comprised by Giovanni Di Domenico on the piano, Giotis Damianidis on electric guitar and effects, Petros Damianidis on double bass and Stephanos Chytiris on the drums, just for the Greek gigs. The quintet is all acoustic except from the guitar and Giotis Damainidis’ numerous psychedelic pedals.

Talking to Chytiris just prior the gig, I asked him if there was any plan or any, even, general idea on how to play. His answer was definitely no. This how it all went, clocking on around the one hour mark.

Even in the free jazz-free improvisation context, when someone is the “bigger” name, we the listeners tend to focus on his/hers playing. It comes out naturally sometimes. The Entasis (which means tension in Greek) quintet is about collective improvisational playing, not a big name or a soloist. The music balanced heavily on the jazz (or free jazz) side of the improvisational spectrum.

They began quite aggressively and Sakata was always ready to leave room for the rest to evolve. After several minutes of an all out group attack, a more bluesy atmosphere followed. I was lucky enough to stand next to Di Domenico’s upright piano, watching him, like the force of nature his playing is, attacking the keyboard in many different ways. I’m not into talking about scales and notes as this was (and is) a music of feelings, very friendly to those of us who want to be thrilled and have minimal technical knowledge.

And quite thrilled we were. The interaction of the musicians was amazing and Chytiris was able to move in. Having watched him live before, I especially enjoy his way of building up tension as the music rises up in volume and energy. There was no clear distinction between the rhythm backbone of the quintet˙ Petros Damianidis and Chytiris seemed to me to follow different paths and not confine themselves in keeping the rhythm at any point.

As mentioned before, Giotis Damianidis’ guitar was an ever-present psychedelic force that undermined the jazzy core of the music. I believe that his smile about my Hendrix (!) t-shirt is not a coincidence.

Positioned in the middle of the quintet, next to his long time partner and equally aggressive Di Domenico, Sakata channeled blasts of free jazz blow outs with remnants of Japanese folk traditions. For me, his music is a medium: ancient traditions of the East that through jazz live on today.

Free jazz, initially had this Dionysian nature, something that many times is missing today. Yesterday was one of these Dionysian joyous moments and I’m pretty sure that Christos Yermenoglou would be very happy about it.