Asaf Sirkis / Eyal Maoz and Daniel Herskedal / Marius Neset, Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 18/09/2012.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
An absorbing evening of music from two excellent but very different duos. The playing of these four exceptional musicians turned this into one of the great Dempsey's nights.
Duos at Dempsey’s
Asaf Sirkis and Eyal Maoz
Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset
Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 18/09/2012.
My first visit to Dempsey’s for quite a while found me witnessing an absorbing evening of music from two excellent but very different duos. A successful jazz duo performance is hard to pull off but both pairings possessed the necessary intimacy to make their performances work.
ASAF SIRKIS and EYAL MAOZ
First up was the Israeli duo of Asaf Sirkis (drums) and Eyal Maoz (guitar). Sirkis is a familiar figure to UK jazz goers having been based in London since 1999. A phenomenally busy and in demand musician he appears as a collaborator or sideman in several different ensembles as well as leading his own groups. Maoz is less well known to British audiences but since settling in New York has established himself as a significant figure on the city’s Downtown jazz scene working with such influential figures as saxophonists John Zorn and Tim Berne, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jim Black and many others. Like his friend, Maoz is also involved in a myriad of different projects, interested readers are directed to http://www.eyalmaozmusic.com to learn more about these. I should however mention the recent release of “Open Circuit” by the trio 9volt featuring Maoz, trombonist Rick Parker and drummer Yonadev Halevy. The album appears on the OutNow Recordings label and also features a guest appearance by Tim Berne who adds alto sax to four of the album’s eight tracks. I intend to review the album more fully in due course.
Sirkis and Maoz go back a long way. Born in the same Israeli town they have made music together since childhood and have released two albums “Freedom Has Its Own Taste (1998, Fasson Records) and “Elementary Dialogues” (Ayler Records, download only, 2009). The day after tonight’s show the pair were due to visit studios in London to record their third album and much of the material played this evening is likely to be documented on the new disc.
A brief glimpse of the duo on youtube suggested that the music would be loud and often wild and woolly. Speaking to Sirkis before the gig he promised that the music would show the “rock and roll” side of his character and indeed tonight’s performance was very different to the recently reviewed Lighthouse show at Much Wenlock which saw Sirkis performing with multi reeds player Tim Garland and pianist Gwilym Simcock. For tonight’s duet Sirkis had ditched his hang and frame drums and opted instead for a monster rock style kit, Maoz meanwhile augmented his guitar sound with an array of floor mounted pedals and switches. His playing drew on the styles of such influential contemporary guitar figures as Marc Ribot, Wayne Krantz and Stian Westerhus as he conjured an array of exotic sounds from his instrument that referenced both free jazz and experimental rock.
Not that this was an entirely improvised performance, Maoz was reading music throughout and most of the pieces came from his pen. Opener “Flying Horse” included plenty of rock riffage and saw Maoz making extensive use of his guitar’s tremolo arm alongside his array of floor mounted gizmos. “Sting” was as powerful as its title suggested with Maoz adding layered effects to the rock power. Announcing the tune Sirkis made it clear that the piece had absolutely nothing to do with a certain Mr.Sumner.
In a well constructed set the duo’s music wasn’t all about sound and fury. “Source” proved to be more impressionistic, gradually building through a series of carefully sculpted circling patterns to finally erupt with an ecstatic passage of soaring guitar. There were moments here when I was reminded of the music of Sirkis’ Inner Noise Trio featuring the church organ sounds of Steve Lodder and the guitar of Mike Outram.
Sirkis’ own “Treat” was similarly impressionistic with the drummer making use of brushes and mallets in a surprisingly haunting and atmospheric solo drum passage that made maximum use of the space engendered by Maoz’s temporary silence.
The next piece was unannounced but began with a solo guitar feature that mutated into a killer riff. Maoz’s technique embraces finger picking, hammering on and thumbed bass lines plus a prodigious chording ability. Allied to his range of FX and Sirkis’ virtuoso drumming it was astonishing to discover just what a glorious racket two blokes sitting down could generate-something exemplified by the high powered riffing of the following “Rice”.
From this the duo moved to the quiet delicacy of “Morning” with Sirkis again deploying brushes before the duo cranked up the volume one last time for the monstrous rock riffs and rhythms of “Here And There”.
A reassuringly large Dempsey’s crowd loved this and called the duo back for an encore with “Go”, lowering the temperature but only very slightly. This was a well programmed set with moments of genuine beauty punctuating the more muscular episodes. It was the first time I’d encountered Maoz’s playing and I was very impressed by his contribution to this exciting and absorbing set. He extends the range of the guitar and his blending of highly technical alt/math rock riffing with a jazz improviser’s sensibility was highly convincing. Sirkis drummed with his characteristic power and accuracy but showed appropriate sensitivity during the music’s quieter moments. We’ve come to expect nothing less from a man who has become one of the UK jazz scene’s best loved and most respected figures.
The duo left Cardiff immediately after the gig, heading back to London to go into the recording studio the following day to work on their third album. Looking at Sirkis’ tight gigging schedule it looks likely that the album will be recorded within a single day, essentially “live in the studio”, with the emphasis on first take spontaneity. Tonight’s bright and sparky set seemed to be the ideal dress rehearsal.
DANIEL HERSKEDAL and MARIUS NESET
Originally tonight’s running order was to have been the other way round. Initially this was Sirkis and Maoz’s date with the Norwegian duo of Herskedal and Neset added later at the request of their label Edition Records. However the recording commitments of the Israeli duo led to a reversal of the planned schedule. Herskedal and Neset played entirely acoustically, no amps, mics or pick ups but their sound still filled the room albeit in a very different way as the duo made typically Nordic use of the spaces between the notes. Any fears that their gentler music would be overshadowed by the sound and fury of their predecessors were immediately quashed by the sheer quality of their playing.
Neset exploded onto the international jazz scene in 2011 with his début album “Golden Xplosion” (Edition Records), a quartet recording that featured his former tutor Django Bates on keyboards and tenor horn plus the Phronesis rhythm pairing of bassist Jasper Hoiby and drummer Anton Eger. Subsequently Neset played a series of live dates around the UK in support of the album with either Nick Ramm or Ivo Neame replacing Bates. These were ecstatically received with Neset wowing audiences wherever he went with his dazzling technical ability and impressive writing skills. I reviewed the performance at Much Wenlock but Neset’s quartet also played a hugely successful show at Dempsey’s and many present in the audience that night had turned out to see him again.
Neset is clearly a musician from whom we should expect the unexpected. His second album for Edition was something completely different, a series of duets with his fellow countryman tuba virtuoso Daniel Herskedal, also a Django Bates alumnus from Bates’ time teaching at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. In fact “Neck Of The Woods” seemed to be essentially Herskedal’s album with the tubist taking most of the composing credits. On some pieces the instrumentalists were supplemented by the massed voices of the Svanholm Singers male choir and the traditional Norwegian folk song “Eg Er Framand” featured an effective contribution from singer Hallvar Djupvik who has performed with the Norwegian National Opera.
Certain aspects of “Neck Of The Woods” are likely to appeal to the crossover audience that made the “Officium” series of recordings by saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the vocal group the Hilliard Ensemble such commercial successes but tonight’s intimate performance boiled the album down to its essence. The recording features a discreet smattering of electronica (as did the duo’s recent appearance at King’s Place, London as part of the Edition Records Festival as reviewed by John Fordham in The Guardian) but tonight’s set, as previously alluded to, was all about Herskedal and Neset and was 100% acoustic. A totally concentrated audience ensured that every nuance was heard and appreciated, you could hear the proverbial pin drop.
The duo began with their beautiful interpretation of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding”, with Neset on tenor caressing the folk like melody above the deep sonorities of Herskedal’s tuba lines. Next came Herskedal’s “Good Morning Denmark”, a tune not included on the album, but a celebratory piece that featured Neset using the keys of his saxophone to create auxiliary percussion effects in support of Herskedal’s tuba vamps.
A traditional Norwegian tune, the title of which Herskedal didn’t even bother to try to translate, featured a remarkable tuba introduction incorporating vocalised sounds, both choral effects and coarser slurs and snorts. Subsequently Neset’s tenor swirled around Herskedal’s highly rhythmic tuba bass lines. It was surprising just how rhythmic and even swinging much of this exquisitely music actually was.
It also came as something of a surprise when the duo announced their last number, it seemed like they’d hardly been playing ten minutes, but such was the depth of absorption they’d generated in their listeners that the audience seemed to have lost all track of time. This proved to be a segue featuring two substantial solo pieces from Neset, “Saxophone Introduction” and “Saxophone Intermezzo”, (the latter reprised from “Golden Xplosion”) eventually merging into Herskedal’ s Balkan flavoured tune “Lutra Lutra”. Neset’s powerful tenor playing has been likened to that of the late Michael Brecker and in his more lyrical moments to that of his compatriot Jan Garbarek. However in this exposed context his light,airy work in the instrument’s upper register suggested that contemporary giant Mark Turner might be added to the list of inspirations. However there’s more to Neset than just the sum of his influences, he’s a musician with an enormous technical facility who is already establishing his own path. “Lutra Lutra” ended the set on a celebratory note with Herskedal showing incredible virtuosity and agility on the tuba with his racing, dizzyingly rhythmic bass lines, these contrasting neatly with Neset’s breathy, high register saxophone trills.
The large and commendably attentive audience gave them a thunderous reception and the duo remained on stage (thus saving Herskedal the indignity of lugging his tuba to the green room and back again) to perform the lovely “Christmas Song” with Neset picking up his soprano for the first time. At a time of the year when (in the words of the late Alan Hull) “winter’s shadowy fingers first pursue you down the street” it seemed strangely appropriate.
So two contrasting performances, one electric and often uncompromisingly visceral, the other totally acoustic, often gentle, often beautiful yet curiously invigorating. Both were totally convincing and were performed by four masters of their respective instruments. Before the show I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but the playing of these four exceptional musicians turned this into one of the great Dempsey’s nights.
Among the crowd was locally based trombonist Gareth Roberts who was particularly keen to check out Herskedal’s playing, as I left the two were engaged in animated conversation – a brotherhood of brass.
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