Markos O Syryianos

PolyGram - PANDORA

CD PAN - 215

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There are more then a few recordings of "O Markos" available on CD where he is the lone featured artist, as well as various Rebetiko Anthologies which naturally feature a variety of other performers as well. However I have yet to hear one (other then the Rounder CD's also reviewed here), that has scrupulously employed a Digital restoration technique, that resulted in a reproduced sound, that achieved a level of sonic excellence, where I could enthusiastically and unconditionally recommend it.  However as is the case with all the artists featured here, I have not heard everything by Vamvakaris that has ever been recorded or that might be currently available. Far from it. That being out on the table so to speak, I would say this CD titled "Markos O Syryianos" on the Polygram - Pandora label (along with some of the Rounder documents ), is probably one of the best I have heard up to this point. In fact according to the liner notes (Greek & English), these tracks were put thorough a Digitally Remastered process of sorts, although which one is not specified. While the sound on some of these tracks are more listensable then others, this CD does give the listener a fair idea of why so many people feel Vamvakaris represents Rebetiko more then any other composer. There are 22 cuts recorded from 1934 -1947 with the majority of them dating from the 1930's. The track offered here, is actually a duet by the "King & Queen" of  Ta Rebetika , "O Markos" and  "I Roza", recorded in 1946. "A little bit Country" and "A little bit Rock & Roll ", they ain't ! 

Vamvakaris wasn't exactly the most ingratiating vocalist around, his voice sounded a bit "metallic" ( similar to slightly higher pitched Tom Waits ) and although he was one of the better instrumentalist around during his day, he did not posses the kind of intrumental Virtuosity of those that would come after him. This is particularly evident when you compare him to a few other Rebetic composer/performers such as Tsistanis or Papaioannou. As far as composition is concerned,  composers such as Theodorakis or Xatharos certainly have written immeasurably more varied, complex and sophisticated material for the benefit of a significantly more "upscale", educated and literate patron.  However to leave it at that would be missing the point. Vamvakaris the Composer is venerated by many Rebetiko aficionados today, because it is primarily his sound, that arguably best expresses a conceptual musical framework, that pervasively and most effectively personifies those intangible and indefinable qualities which constitute many of the "rudimentary" elements, that best reflect an accurate expression of the contemporary Greek character.  And it is that character, which permeates just about every other aspect of the modern Hellenic identity. Such an accomplishment naturally bequeaths the type of legacy, that has always been something of the "Holy Grail" for any legitimate artist. This for a guy who began this life destitute, left home at the age of 12, only to end up as something of a modern-day musical Icon during his own lifetime. All this during a period and in a part of the world, where the very notion of any significant "cultural" contribution coming from any individual with such humble origins, would not only have been unpredictable, it would in fact have been inconceivable. As another great Philosopher / Artist and contemporary 20th century Icon, Jack Nicholson might have commented (in that inimitable style, that he and only he can so effectively communicate), "that ain't bad " !