Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Asaf Sirkis

Asaf Sirkis Trio, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 29/11/2009

by Ian Mann

December 01, 2009


Absorbing, colourful music from the jazz/rock interface

The latest Black Mountain Jazz event featured London based drummer Asaf Sirkis with his current trio featuring electric bassist Yaron Stavi and guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos. The date was part of an extensive tour promoting the trio’s latest album “The Monk” (2008), an intriguing record featuring the writing of Sirkis and including guest appearances from Gary Husband (appearing on keyboards) and percussionist Adriano Adewale. The album is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Sirkis’s last appearance at this venue was roughly a year ago on a memorable night featuring the combined saxophone talents of Andy Sheppard and Dan Stern. The club was rammed for that appearance but if the numbers were sadly rather depleted tonight (mainstream trumpeter Digby Fairweather was also in town and poached some of BMJ’s regular audience) the music was still excellent.

I have a confession to make here, I was torn between this date and the one the previous night at The Edge in Much Wenlock. Both venues have been very supportive of me ( and me of them, I’d like to think) and are roughly equidistant in terms of travelling. It was a tough decision to make but I figured Wenlock would be close to a sell out and that BMJ might need more support in terms of numbers on the night. This was borne out by the poor attendance at BMJ and Asaf’s comments that there were over a hundred at The Edge. I hope Alison will forgive me for my absence.

Asaf Sirkis is one of the most in demand drummers in the UK and has worked regularly with saxophonists Gilad Atzmon and Tim Garland, pianist John Law, guitarist Nicolas Meier and singer Sarah Gillespie among many others. He has also recorded three albums with his unique Inner Noise trio which adds the distinctive sound of the church organ ( played by Steve Lodder) to guitar (Mike Outram) and drums.

His latest trio with new guitarist Spiliotopoulos and bassist Stavi retains some of the elements of Inner Noise but is less overtly “Gothic”. Nonetheless it is essentially a “jazz/rock” band exploring the interface where the two genres meet in a consistently interesting way. The music is concerned with texture and interaction rather than grandstanding soloing, and although there are some outstanding individual moments vacuous 70’s fusion it is not.

The material was drawn from “The Monk” but also featured a selection of newer pieces, some as yet untitled which should appear on the trio’s second album due to be recorded in 2010. The opener “Alone” was drawn from “The Monk” and featured Spiliotopoulos’ ruminative, gently probing guitar above Sirkis’ floating drum pulse and Stavi’s supple five string electric bass. I’ve seen Stavi before as a member of Gilad Atzmon’s band but this was my first sighting of Spiliotopoulos and I was hugely impressed. He has an album of his own available “Wait For Dusk” (2006) recorded with Sirkis and Stavi plus Blink and Outhouse saxophonist Robin Fincker and I will be taking a look at this on the site at a later date. First impressions are very favourable.

Next up was the only standard of the night, a radical re-interpretation of Bill Evans’ “Very Early”.. Things began quietly enough, almost ballad like before Stavi set up a hypnotic bass groove at which point Spiliotopoulos stepped up the intensity with Sirkis weighing in with a number of forceful drum breaks. Interesting stuff.

This was followed by one of Sirkis’ newer tunes, “Letting Go” as yet unrecorded. This was essentially a two part composition high on drama and with an atmospheric opening featuring Sirkis’ rolling toms and shimmering cymbals all played with soft head sticks and shadowed by bass and effects laden guitar. The second part of the tune saw Sirkis laying down a shuffle beat which Mutated into something far more rock influenced as Spiliotopoulos took flight with a blistering rock solo with heavy use of sustain. This was the best number to date as the band began to warm to their task and Sirkis’s writing here had a real episodic quality. Some commentators (myself included)  remarked that the themes on “The Monk” did not always match up to the undoubted technical abilities of the group. Sirkis’s newer tunes suggest that he is resolving this problem and the next album should be well worth waiting for.

The following number was untitled and lowered the temperature somewhat. This was essentially a feature for Stavi and featured a solo bass introduction followed by a singing, liquid Steve Swallow solo underpinned by Sirkis’ tasteful brushwork and Spiliotopoulos’ colourful chording with the guitarist briefly taking over the lead for the closing segment of the tune. Following the powerful “Letting Go” the restrained nature and quiet beauty of this new tune made for an effective dynamic contrast.

The trio closed the first set with another tune “Chenai Dream” which reflected Sirkis’ growing interest in the music of South India. The introduction was a sustained piece of vocal percussion from the leader before Stavi’s fat bass sound provided the bedrock for another scorching solo from Spilitopoulos. The bassist was more lyrical on his own solo and the piece made for a thrilling end to an engrossing and well programmed first set.

The second half commenced with another new tune as yet untitled. Spiliotopoulos’ sparse chording provided the backdrop for an intro in which Sirkis’ drums took the lead. When the guitarist cut loose his playing reminded me of Phil Miller of Hatfield and The North and National Health fame. Speaking to Spiliotopoulos after the gig I mentioned this but I wasn’t altogether surprised that he’d never heard of Miller. However he did reveal that his biggest influence is Allan Holdsworth a player who once had a stint with Soft Machine thereby giving my “Canterbury connection” some validity.
I didn’t mention to Spiliotopoulos that when I saw Holdsworth’s trio a year or so back I found them rather bombastic and emotionally uninvolving for all the technical expertise on display. I’m pleased to say that these were not criticisms I could apply to the Sirkis group. Still talking guitars I mentioned that Spilotopoulos’s playing reminded me at times of both John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell but Spilitopoulos said that although he knew their work they were not major influences, for him Holdsworth was definitely the man.

Moving swiftly on, “Ima” featured a solo drum opening with Sirkis again using soft heads to produce a kind of muffled thunder punctuated by soft guitar chords. The thunder became louder as Sirkis switched to sticks and Spiliotopoulos and Stavi laid down doomy guitar and bass figures. This was another piece of excellent, atmospheric writing and will hopefully appear on the new record.

The same could be said of “Waltz For Rehovot” a tune written for Sirkis’ home town in Israel (Stavi is also an Israeli emigre, Spiliotopoulos is from Greece)) and which acknowledges it’s cosmopolitan nature and east meets west vibe. London I suppose is not too dissimilar. Musically this was another feature for the excellent Stavi, his playing agile and lyrical and concentrated around the higher registers of his instrument.  The almost guitar like quality of his playing again brought the great Steve Swallow to mind.

Taken from “The Monk” the tune “Dream” was rearranged to incorporate a drum intro with crashing cymbals,  Sirkis maintaining the energy levels throughout the piece with some powerful playing. Stavi’s bass took over the lead before Spiliotopoulos executed a soaring solo, very much in rock mode. Sirkis’ drum breaks involved into a lengthy solo hammering with Stavi’s closing bass feature bringing a strongly contrasting lyricism. Thrilling stuff.

The sparse but enthusiastic crowd called the trio back for a deserved encore this being the epic title track “The Monk”, not a tribute to Thelonious but an allusion to the disciplines of the monastic pursuit. The gentle guitar/bass intro developed into solos for each instrument in turn before the two entered into a series of intriguing interlocking patterns , the hypnotic guitar and bass lines meshing with Sirkis’ s drums in a display of disciplined virtuosity.

An evening of high quality music then, always absorbing and exhibiting real potential for the next recording as the trio continue to develop as an entity. It’s unfortunate that so few witnessed it, but those that did enjoyed it immensely.

blog comments powered by Disqus