Pangéo, Northern Borders (Self-released, 2001)

Keftedakia.. Spanakopita... Dolmadhkia... Roast lamb. with fresh mint.. Retsina... Drooling yet? The kitchen staff here at Green Man decided to prepare a Greek feast, so they're cooking now. Which explains why nothing at all is getting done for work by anyone else in this building.

(Why Greek? No idea. You should have been here the week they decided that Hungarian would be served. The centuries-old kitchen here, to quote Emma Bull's Finder novel, is 'a combination of farmhouse kitchen, private club, and arts salon.' They serve what they want, when they want. And so Greek is what it is for our Eventide meal.)

The musicians in the Neverending Session were too distracted by the smells of the food to offer up any live music, so I offered to go the Music Library and find some really good Greek music. So now I'm starting at the stacks... I could give them the Athenians' Greek Songs, Dances and Rembetiko or Women of Rembetica, both groups from Greece itself, but decided instead on Pangéo, a group from Seattle, Washington in the USA! 'Huh', you ask, 'why this group?' Because it simply is some of the finest Greek music that you'll ever have the pleasure to hear, bar none! Here, have some of the lovely lamb and rice stuffed grape leafs... And nibble on some of Organic Kalamata olives grown in the southern Peloponess. Now grab a glass of Kourtakis Retsina and we'll discuss this ever-so-fine CD.

Pangéo plays traditional folk music of Greece and the Balkans: They are 'a five-member group based in Seattle drawn together by a passion for the music of Greece and the Balkans'. With a taste for old-style dance music they are equally at home playing ballads from the mountains of Epiros in Greece, or lively tunes from the Bulgarian border area. The instrumentation includes clarinet, accordion, violin, guitar, santouri, percussion, voices and bouzouki-for a sound that transports you to another world! Now it is important to comment at this point in the review that Pangéo admits that most of the music they have recorded here is not actually from Greece, but rather from the region along the Greek border, Macedonia and Epiros; hence Northern Borders as the name of the CD. (Please do not write me to say that Macedonia is part of Greece as I know that the name is in dispute!) They go on to note that 'many of the tunes we chose exist on both sides of the Greek border, and that is part of their charm, reminding us of cultural connection in stormy times.' Bela, one of the resident fiddlers here at Green Man, says that the tunes, under myriad names, can be found for thousands of miles up and down the region. And isn't a measure of well respected a tune is how widely it's played?

And Pangéo is truly a great band. Just take a look at their backgrounds which I've modified slightly from their excellent Web site
The Greek in the group is Christos Govetas who was born in the village of Proti in the province of Serres in Greek Macedonia. He is a well-known singer and an accomplished bouzouki, laouto, oud, clarinet and zourna player. After emigrating to Boston in 1978 he joined the Greek Rebetiko band Taximi as a bouzouki player and their main vocalist. Since then he has played classical Turkish music on the oud and bendir with The Eurasia Ensemble, Greek, Turkish and Arabic music with Karaváni and regional Balkan music with Tito's Revenge and Akshambelah in the Boston area

Ruth Hunter has, bless her, been singing and playing music of the Balkans since the early '80s. She has taught voice, accordion and tambura at many music and dance events and performed at dances and in concerts throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. A veteran of such San Francisco Bay area groups as Medna Usta, The Balkan Noyz Boys, Bay Area Balkan Ensemble and The Balkan Appliances, she also played in the Boston area with Karaváni and Akshambelah.

Violinist Sandra Dean performed for 10 years with the Radost Folk Ensemble and the Balkan music group Aegean View. Her interest in ethnic violin styles ranges from Irish to Indian-with many stops in between. She specializes in music of the Balkans and has traveled to Greece and Bulgaria to research music and attend worksops with traditional musicians.

Dave Bartley, who asked our Editor-in-Chief for a review, plays mandolin, guitar, cittern, tambura and numerous other plucked instruments. He has also written scores of tunes, some of which are working their way into repertoires around the country. Dave is a force in the contradance world, playing with KGB, Bag o'Tricks, Close Call and Tricky Brits. Dave has studied and played music of the Balkans and has played with local dance-troupe Radost, global songstress Gina Sala, Balkan dance-band Aegean View as well as Pangéo.

Rounding out the group is David Bilides' interest in Greek folk music began in his childhood in the Asia Minor Greek community in which he grew up. He went on to travel and perform extensively with such various groups as the Sophia Bilides Greek Folk Music Ensemble and Evo Nas on the East Coast, and Bay Area Balkan Ensemble, Edessa Power Block and Anadolu Express in the San Francisco Bay area. David is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist playing the Bulgarian kaval, Turkish saz, santouri, floghera, zourna, tupan, doumbek and defi among other instruments.

Before I get in the details of this CD, let me state that this is a band that I want to hear live, preferably where me and me wife Brigid can get nice and sweaty dancing. Like the Nettles from Portland, Oregon, they sound fun. And a fun dance band is always a joy to be around. I've been sipping tsipouro while listening to this CD play in the kitchen CD player and I can barely keep me feet from dancing me 'cross the floor. It's that good. It's so good that it feels live even though the liner notes say it was at, I kid you not, Jack Straw Productions, a nonprofit audio arts center serving artists and communities in the Northwest. The only aspect of a live recording that's missing is crowd sounds and the kitchen staff here goes ooh-ing and ah-ing over every cut.

"Poulaki Kseno", according to the liner notes, (which is spelled "Poulaki Xseno" on the site, so take your choice) from western Macedonia, and is apparently a parable of exile from the viewpoint of a bird. Christos voice is simply superb on this cut, which you can hear an excerpt of here. After listening to "Poulaki Kseno", go enjoy "Kondi-Kondoula" which is a tale of two young girls and their not so sweet rivalry. Finish your listening out with a set of tunes, 'Beranche / Chochek' from Albania, which Bela claims are some of the finest tunes ever written! He agrees with the band that these tunes exist throughout the region.

So what you have is five extremely good musicians, wonderful songs and a few tunes, impeccable production, and only one nagging complaint... When's the next CD from Pangéo coming out? It better be soon as the kitchen staff has now played it three times so far!

Now let's go eat some of the lamb kebabs I see sitting on a grill...

[Jack Merry]