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Tassos Spiliotopoulos

Ballad for a New World

by Ian Mann

October 20, 2022


A collection of intelligent, varied and highly melodic original compositions enhanced by the excellent playing of all the musicians involved.

Tassos Spiliotpoulos

“Ballad for a New World”

(Anelia Records ACD008)

Tassos Spiliotopoulos – guitar, Jonas Knutsson – soprano & alto sax, Robert Erlandsson – bass,
Fredrik Rundqvist – drums

The Greek guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos was born in Athens but spent around twelve years living in London during which time he became a significant presence on the UK jazz scene. Spiliotopoulos worked extensively with the Israeli born drummer and composer Asaf Sirkis and appeared on several of his albums. Sirkis returned the favour by playing on Spiliotopoulos’ solo albums “Wait For Dusk” (2006) and “Archipelagos” (2010), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. 

Others with whom Spiliotopoulos has worked with in the UK include electric bassists Yaron Stavi and Kevin Glasgow, saxophonist Robin Fincker, drummer/pianist Gary Husband, flautist Gareth Lockrane, pianist John Turville, and fellow guitarists John Parricelli and John Etheridge. “Archipelagos” featured a guest appearance on trumpet by the late, great Kenny Wheeler.

In 2013 Spiliotopoulos relocated to Stockholm, a city where he already had family ties, declaring that “the environment seemed right for reflection and introspection”. He retained his links to the UK by continuing to tour extensively with Sirkis but also formed his own group of Swedish musicians as well as acting as a producer for emerging singer/songwriter Jenny Holmgren.

In 2016 Spiliotpoulos released “In The North”, recorded with his ‘Swedish Band’ featuring saxophonist Orjan Hulten, a bandleader in his own right with numerous recordings to his credit, including several with his quartet Orion. The ‘Swedish Band’ also included bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist.

“In The North” represented Spiliotopoulos’ most satisfying album to date and in 2016 a version of his Swedish band toured the UK with Spiliotopoulos and Hulten joined by bassist Robert Erlandsson and by Sirkis at the drums. This line up played a superb set at the Queens Head in Monmouth, a performance that is reviewed here;

In 2020 Spiliotopoulos recorded the digital EP “Solitude”, which despite its title was a trio session recorded in London with old friends Glasgow and Sirkis. The EP takes its title from the opening track of the same name.

Also in 2020 Spiliotopoulos issued “Arpeggio Chains System”, an hour long instruction video for guitarists. The EP and video plus all of the guitarist’s albums, including this most recent one,  are available via his Bandcamp page.

“Ballad for a New World” introduces a new version of the Swedish Band featuring saxophonist Jonas Knutsson, bassist Robert Erlandsson and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist, the latter recently heard as a member of pianist Daniel Karlsson’s trio. Rundqvist has also featured regularly with Orjan Hulten’s bands.

Meanwhile Knutsson has previously worked with guitarist Johan Norberg and trombonist Nils Landgren and has enjoyed a successful relationship with the German record label ACT. With Norberg Knutsson was part of Norrland, a duo that explored the folk music and Sami culture of Northern Sweden and combined it with jazz elements. They released three albums for ACT including “Skaren; Norrland III”, which saw the line up extended to a trio with the addition of German bassist Eva Krause from the trio {em}. The album also featured contributions from the Swedish female vocal ensemble Kraja.
Review here;

Knutsson also leads his own quartet and has collaborated widely with many other leading Swedish jazz musicians.

Knutsson brings something of that folk influence to “Ballad for A New World”. The album title expresses a hope for a better future at a time when the news is dominated by stories of pandemic, war and economic crises. It was recorded in June 2022 with Spiliotopoulos also handling all the engineering and production duties.

The album commences with the optimistic “New Land” (the title a nod to Lee Morgan, perhaps?), a piece that features intertwining guitar and soprano sax melody lines and a gently rolling bass and drum groove. The strong melodic focus that distinguished “In the North” is still evident, a quality that is enhanced by Knutsson’s folk influences. Spiliotopoulos takes the first solo, followed by Knutsson on sinuous soprano.

“September” adopts a darker tone but the music is no less compelling with Spiliotopoulos and Knutsson, this time on alto, I think, continuing to sketch beguiling melodies above an implacable groove. Spiliotopoulos, who cites the late, great Allan Holdsworth as one of his primary influences, is a guitarist who uses his range of effects skilfully and judiciously, as his solo here demonstrates. Knutsson follows, here adopting a harder edged tone and probing more deeply.

The energetic “Corridor” is complex and intricate and is influenced by Spiliotopoulos’ love of Indian music, perhaps something nurtured by his tenure with Sirkis, who enjoys a similar fascination. The piece is something of a vehicle for Knutsson, who solos on soprano with passion and energy, getting right inside the music. The leader’s own solo is less frenetic, but no less compelling. Erlandsson and Rundqvist handle the rhythmic challenges of the piece with great acumen and conviction.

“A Day To Remember” adopts a gentler, more wistful tone, expressive of the nostalgia inherent in the title. Soprano sax melodies dance above a softly skittering brushed drum groove before Spiliotopoulos takes over with a solo that combines sparkling melody lines with sophisticated chording.

“Corridor (part 2)” is more riff based than its earlier counterpart and even introduces an element of funk into the proceedings. The leader’s guitar solo features his most rock influenced playing of the set, while Knutsson’s soprano feature sees something of a return of that Indian influence. There’s also an extended bass and drum workout on this, the album’s most dynamic and energetic track.

The title track is a yearning ballad led by the pure tones of Knutsson’s gently keening soprano. There’s also something of an air of solemnity about the piece, with Rundqvist deploying brushes throughout. The leader solos with fluency and elegance on what is arguably the album’s most beautiful composition.

“Ex-Elixis” raises the energy levels once more with lithe soprano dancing above a buoyant groove. Spliotopoulos’ guitar solo has a controlled intensity allied to a strong sense of melody and an underlying bluesiness that reminds me, probably coincidentally, of the late, great Phil Miller (Matching Mole, Hatfield & The North, National Health etc.). Knutsson then takes over once more, soloing joyously above a chord sequence that, to me, also has something of a ‘Canterbury’ feel about it.

The album concludes with “Through Her Eyes”, a solo performance from Spiliotopoulos that features him overdubbing layering his guitars to create a beautiful and highly melodic soundscape.

“Ballad for a New World” represents another impressive offering from Spiliotopoulos with a collection of intelligent, varied and highly melodic original compositions enhanced by the excellent playing of all the musicians involved.

The current edition of the ‘Swedish Band’ toured the UK in March 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic with their schedule including another excellent performance in Monmouth. Let’s hope that they will be able to return to the UK in the future now that things finally seem to be getting back to normal.





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