London’s vibrant scene is widely known as an international hub for some of the world’s most forward-thinking jazz musicians. Greek drummer Vasileios Podaras (aka Billy Pod) brings together a cast of home grown musicians and fellow expats for his second album as leader, Quintessence, which is set to release on November 4th. The record follows his 2019 release Drums to Heal Society, which saw him named by the French Magazine Batterie as one of the ‘Top 10 New and Upcoming Drummers’ and facilitated a move from Athens to the UK capital.
‘Unprecedented’ is a good example of growing a tune from relatively simple sounding repeating phrase. The Guitar and piano lead the way with drummer Billy Pod providing strong but not overpowering rhythmic support. The tune starts slowly and builds, gradually, with terrific playing from Tom Ollendorff on guitar and Rupert Cox at the keyboard. There is a good lyrical quality to the music until the middle section when the energy of the piece lifts but does not get carried away with itself. ‘Elysium’ opens with a nicely drummed pattern over which the Tom Ollendorff and Rupert Cox play a gentle melodic line. It is Billy Pod’s drumming and his interaction with guitar and keys that works really well on this number and gives it its lyrical dance feel (see video at the end of this post).
The album’s title track has an added level of vibrancy that moves the album on in terms of feel and energy. This is particularly noticeable in Rupert Cox’s keyboard work and faster moving hands of Billy Pod at the drums. Jean Sibelius composed ‘Valse Triste’, which translates into ‘Sad Waltz. This is a beautiful piece of writing played with due reverence to the original and is, without doubt, a track to savour; a time to press pause, reflect and then move on to ‘Kafkaesque’. There is nothing in the writing or playing of this track that suggests “nightmarish”, a term often associated with Kafka’s work, but this is very much a cyclical piece with recurring themes and little in the way of linear movement, which is perhaps its link to Franz Kafka.
‘The Higher We Soar’ has the listener on what in now very familiar territory with keys and guitar interacting on the tune’s central melody, the drums providing just the right amount of rhythmic emphasis to keep the number driving forward and bass player, Miko Scarcia, adding his own very subtle pulse to the music that does enough to add another texture to the overall sound. The album closes on ‘No Beginning, No End’, the most ethereal sounding track of the seven that makes up Quintessence. The number is brief, cyclical in construction and perfectly matches its title.
In the press pack I received with this release were the following words:
A reflection on the intellectual nature of humanity in modern society, Quintessence sees BillyPod refine his skills as a drummer, bandleader, composer and producer. With a modern approach to groove at the record’s core, Billy Pod’s laid-back style borrows not just from jazz but from dance music too. Lyrical melodies, emotive harmony and thoughtful songwriting offer a rich musical landscape within which some of London’s most in-demand players showcase their individuality.
There is little I can say to contradict any of the above. I have not heard Billy Pod’s debut album, so I have no idea whether this release is a continuation of what went before something different. I do consider this to be a good contemporary European style jazz album and the choice of Tom Ollendorff as guitarist an astute one. This is an end of the day, late night listening type album full of beautifully lyrical harmonies in which to lose oneself.
Quintessence is available from Bandcamp
Musicians: Billy Pod – drums; Tom Ollendorff – guitar; Miko Scarcia – bass; Rupert Cox – keys
Tracklist: 1. Unprecedented. 2. Elysium. 3. Quintessence. 4. Valse Triste. 5. Kafkaesque. 6. The Higher We Soar… 7. No beginning, No end.
All Compositions and arrangements by Billy Pod except ‘Valse Triste’ composed by Jean Sibelius.