by Ian Mann
October 12, 2015
A band of brilliant individuals gelling superbly over the course of two sets of adventurous, technically challenging music.
Asaf Sirkis Quartet with Gareth Lockrane, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/10/2015.
Tonight’s gig by a stellar quintet led by the Israel born, London based drummer and composer Asaf Sirkis represented something of a coup for Shrewsbury Jazz Network. Four of the musicians had participated in the making of Sirkis’ 2013 album “Shepherd’s Stories”, to these ears his most accomplished recording to date, but tonight was the first time that they had actually performed together in public as a quintet.
“Shepherd’s Stories” was made by Sirkis’ working trio of the time with Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitar and Yaron Stavi on electric bass, the latter since replaced by Kevin Glasgow. The album was enhanced by judicious guest appearances from John Turville on electric piano and Gareth Lockrane on flute. The Greek born Spiliotopoulos has since moved from London to Stockholm and Sirkis has subsequently performed a number of trio gigs with Glasgow and Turville. For this special gig in Shrewsbury the guitarist had flown back from Sweden and thanks to a request from the members of the organisers, Shrewsbury Jazz Network, it was decided to add Lockrane in the role of ‘guest soloist’. This was to prove an inspired decision as the illustrious quintet performed two excellent sets of original material from the pen of Sirkis, mainly sourced from the “Shepherd’s Stories” album but occasionally reaching deeper into his now rich back catalogue. SJN were awarded for their enterprise by an almost capacity crowd who responded to the music with great warmth and enthusiasm.
Sirkis has been based in the UK since 1999 and in recent years I’ve been lucky enough to witness his development as both a performer and a writer. The pieces on “Shepherd’s Stories” are intentionally melodic, descriptive and evocative and represent Sirkis’ most mature collection of tunes to date. His latest venture is “Come To Me”, an album featuring the vocal talents of the Polish singer Sylwia Bialas, who also guested on “Shepherd’s Stories”. Autumn 2015 will also find Sirkis touring with his ‘International Quartet’ featuring Bialas, Hive favourite Frank Harrison (piano, keyboards) and Patrick Bettison (electric bass, harmonica).
Tonight’s performance began with the core quartet of Sirkis, Spiliotopoulos, Turville and Glasgow tackling the tune “Chennai Dream” from the album “Letting Go”, the immediate predecessor of “Shepherd’s Stories”. The group sound was loosely in the the area of “fusion” with Spiliotopoulos, Turville and Glasgow all deploying electric instruments and with Sirkis playing an imposing conventional jazz/rock drum kit – he has another set up that he uses in other contexts which includes frame drums, udu and other items of ‘ethnic’ percussion. Spiliotopoulos was the first musician to solo, his distinctive sound influenced by the playing of fellow guitarist Allan Holdsworth, an inspiration that Spiliotopoulos readily acknowledges. He was followed by Turville who concentrated on the classic ‘electric piano’ sound on his Nord keyboard. Next we heard from Glasgow, a hugely gifted six string electric bass specialist who first came to presence in the ‘Karma’ band led by saxophonist Tommy Smith.
Lockrane was added to the group for “Eyes Tell”, the first piece to be sourced from the “Shepherd’s Stories” album. One of that album’s gentler and most melodic pieces tonight’s arrangement included mellifluous solos from Lockrane on flute, Spiliotopoulos on guitar and Glasgow on liquid, guitar like electric bass. Glasgow is one of the few bass players to use a capot, evidence that he is also a talented guitarist who has recorded on that instrument in a trio led by the South Wales based organist John Paul Gard.
Also from Shepherd’s Stories” “Meditation” was introduced by an atmospheric passage of solo guitar from Spiliotopoulos who utilised looping and layering effects to create a rich sonic backdrop in conjunction with the shimmer of Sirkis’ mallets on cymbals. Lockrane had brought a variety of flutes with him and utilised them all, sometimes moving between the different types during the course of a single tune. Here he featured on the alto flute, sharing the solos with Spiliotopoulos on guitar and Turville at the keyboard.
“Together” is the album track which features Lockrane and for this he moved to bass flute and delivering an extended solo that complemented the delicate interplay between guitar, bass and the leader’s brushed drums.
An excellent first set concluded with the title track from “Shepherd’s Stories”, an energetic but highly melodic piece that provided the framework for no less than two excellent solos from Lockrane who was featured on both flute and piccolo. Elsewhere we enjoyed feverish solos from Turville on keyboards and Spiliotopoulos on guitar, plus a final drum flourish from the leader.
The second half began with the trio of Sirkis, Spiliotopoulos and Glasgow who performed the composition “Full Moon”, a piece sourced from the repertoire of the “Letting Go” album. Spiliotooulos was the featured soloist, the guitarist again making tasteful use of his array of effects.
Turville and Lockrane returned to the stage for “Traveller”, a “Shepherd’s Stories” track that Sirkis has habitually humorously dedicated to Travelodge but upgraded tonight to Ramada Hotels! Lockrane gravitated between bass flute and the conventional C flute, delivering his solo upon the latter and occasionally deploying an FX pedal of his own.
The title of “Dream Sister” was an allusion to Sirkis’ compositional methods and the way in which tunes sometimes written year apart can exhibit similar characteristics. Hence this piece from “Shepherd’s Stories” bears a ‘family resemblance’ to an earlier composition simply called “Dream” which appeared on Srkis’ 2008 album “The Monk”. An explosive drum introduction ushered in an energetic fast moving piece with Turville soloing expansively on keyboards. Meanwhile Lockrane moved from bass flute to piccolo, soloing on the latter. The tune eventually ended as it began with a rousing Sirkis drum flourish.
“Waltz For Rehovot”, Sirkis’ dedication to his home town is one of his earlier compositions and he told us of how the music and rhythms of the Yemeni settlers who had come to the town had influenced his own music and playing. The tune itself features one of Sirkis’ prettiest melodies and was a genuine waltz that featured solos from Lockrane on bass flute and Glasgow at his most melodic and guitar like on the bass. These two featured in a delightful series of melodic exchanges, subtly prompted by Sirkis’ brushed drums, that drew a particularly warm reception from the appreciative Shrewsbury audience.
The evening ended with the prog rock like grandeur of “1801”, the opening track on the Shepherd’s Stories” album. This epic was presaged by a stunning passage of South Indian vocal percussion from Sirkis, who is currently becoming more and more immersed in the rhythms of the sub-continent. His band mates plus the audience joined in on some of the simpler ‘choruses’ but essentially this was a virtuoso solo performance from a master of rhythm who just keeps getting better and better. Later we heard from other members of this all star band with Spiliotopoulos leading the way on guitar followed by Lockrane with a flute solo that incorporated vocalised techniques and the use of that effects pedal. Turville, who was excellent throughout, delivered another hugely imaginative keyboard solo. Also an excellent acoustic pianist and a previous visitor to The Hive with his own trio he’s due to return again in 2016 as part of a duo alongside vocalist Brigitte Beraha. Appropriately an excellent evening of music making concluded with a dazzling solo drum feature from the smiling Sirkis, a phenomenal musician and a genuinely likeable guy who thoroughly deserves the many plaudits that have come his way.
This had been one of the classic SJN nights with a band of brilliant individuals gelling superbly over the course of two sets of adventurous, technically challenging music. Everybody impressed individually but with Sirkis prompting from the drums this possibly “never to be heard again” quintet quickly established a thoroughly compelling and convincing group identity.
For Sirkis this was the last British gig before leaving the UK for a short trio tour of China in the company of Spiliotopoulos and Glasgow. He will the return to continue his UK tour with his ‘International Quartet’ featuring Bialas, Harrison and Bettison. Visit http://www.asafsirkis.co.uk for more details.
Meanwhile Spiliotopoulos is due to record an album in Sweden with a band of Stockholm based musicians.blog comments powered by Disqus