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Asaf Sirkis

The Monk


by Ian Mann

September 20, 2008


Technically brilliant but lacking the themes to make it truly memorable

The London based Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis led the distinctive trio The Inner Noise for a number of years deploying the unusual combination of electric guitar and church organ. The 2007 album “The Song Within” (also reviewed on this site at represented the apex of this group’s achievements with Sirkis’ writing finally matching his ambitious ideas.

Sirkis has now elected to move on and has formed a new trio in the company of Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and bassist Yaron Stavi. Like Sirkis, Stavi is also an Israeli emigre and a fellow member of saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s band.

On this recording Stavi concentrates exclusively on electric bass .“The Monk” retains much of the spacey, gothic atmosphere of the Inner Noise project with Spiliotopoulos’ guitar adding texture as well as being deployed as a lead instrument.

Besides the core trio there is also a substantial contribution from Sirkis’ friend and mentor Gary Husband in keyboard playing mode plus an appearance by percussionist Adriano Adewale on the track “Alone”.

If the title of the album is a homage to Thelonious Monk it’s not a particularly obvious one. Sirkis’ trio is more influenced by 70’s fusion than 50’s bebop. Similarly the opening “Stoned Bird” may or may not be inspired by Charlie Parker. It’s a lengthy piece featuring Sirkis’ crisp polyrhythmic drumming, Stavi’s lyrical, singing bass guitar (at times reminiscent of Steve Swallow) and Spiliotopoulos’ soar away, rock influenced guitar. Husband also weighs in with a Roland keyboard solo that nods in the direction of Joe Zawinul. The band build the piece from a simple melodic idea and although the feel and the instrumentation are of fusion there is still a high degree of improvised content.

The title track, itself a lengthy offering, mines similar territory but in a quieter, darker vein. Husband’s electric keyboard is again prominent alongside the choked intensity of Spiliotopoulos’ guitar. Sirkis’ rolling toms and cymbal splashes add greatly to the drama.

“The Bridge” is a short passage written by Husband and played by him on solo piano. It is the only non Sirkis composition on the record and leads into the atmospheric “Without A Story” which sounds almost entirely improvised with heavily treated guitar textures circled by Sirkis’ dense drumming.

“Alone” features an absorbing dialogue between Sirkis and the Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, a veritable rain forest of percussion. There’s another absorbing solo from Stavi and Spiliotopoulos’ guitar chording holds it all together.

” End Of The Circle” is another slow burning tune from the core trio with Spiliotopoulos’s guitar ruminations offset by Sirkis’ subtly controlled drumming.

“Dream” marks the return of Husband’s keyboards alongside Spiliotopoulos’ Allan Holdsworth style guitar. Sirkis demonstrates his awesome power and technique with a lengthy solo, the sort of thing that works far better in a live context. He is still the dominant figure in the second part of the tune as Spiliotopoulos’ guitar ostinati circle around him.

The closing “The Journey Home” recalls Inner Noise with it’s deep space guitar chording and shimmering cymbals.

There is much to enjoy on “The Monk”, the playing exhibits an awesome degree of technical proficiency, particularly from Sirkis himself, and the interplay between the three main protagonists is consistently absorbing.

However, as other critics have pointed out none of the themes upon which the trio hang their impressive talents is particularly memorable. For all the technical ability on offer none of the tunes really stick in the mind. “The Monk” is impressive enough in it’s own way but lacks the visceral drama of the preceding “The Song Within”.

However Inner Noise took several attempts to hit the bullseye and the chances are that if Sirkis sticks with this new trio the next album may well be the killer.

“The Monk” album launch takes place at Charlie Wright’s London on Thursday 18th September 2008. see for full details of this event and the upcoming UK tour.

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