by Ian Mann
April 11, 2016
Spiliotopoulos' most satisfying album to date. Its focus on strong melodic themes allied to some highly accomplished ensemble playing results in music that is rich in colour and invention.
“In the North”
(Anelia Records ACD002)
The Athens born guitarist and composer Tassos Spilitopoulos spent around twelve years living in London during which time he became a significant presence on the UK jazz scene. Spiliotopulos 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 Spiliotopulos 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 the North” represents Spiliotopoulos’ third outing as a leader and features the Swedish musicians Orjan Hulten (saxophones), Palle Sollinger (bass) and Fredrik Rundqvist (drums). Already operating as a trio under Hulten’s leadership the three Swedes first met Spiliotopoulos when the guitarist was working with them on a project named “Tune-up Jarva”.
“I was looking for a band to play with in Stockholm” Spiliotopoulos recalls “and when I ran into Orjan, Fredrik and Palle we clicked instantly. I thought, here is a band I can really play with”.
The newly formed quartet played a few local gigs performing Spiliotopoulos’ tunes before heading into the Small House Studios in Tyreso, Sweden to record “In the North”, a set of eight original Spiliotopoulos compositions. The leader considers it to be his best recorded work to date and to these ears he’s probably right. There’s a genuine chemistry between the band members and a new sophistication and maturity about Spiliotopoulos’ writing and playing. He has always been an impressive technician but this latest album goes beyond mere technique with each composition telling its own story. Like Sirkis his compositional skills have matured and these pieces impress with their cinematic quality and the way in which Spiliotopoulos blends his numerous influences including Greek folk music, film music, blues and flamenco. It’s less obviously a ‘fusion’ record than his previous solo releases and sees him finding an increasingly personal voice on the guitar and further distancing himself from the sound of his primary source of influence, the British born guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Spiliotopoulos comments; “I never wanted to be a specialist in any one style of music… rather to let all the different influences blend into my own style”.
As an album “In the North” sets its stall out with the atmospheric opener “Waterfall” with its rippling guitar arpeggios allied to Hulten’s slow burning saxophone and Rundqvist’s light, splashy cymbal work. Spiliotpoulos takes the first solo which is melodic and spacious and serves the composition well, he may have technique in abundance but his intention is not to dazzle the listener by merely demonstrating his ‘chops’ . He’s followed by Hulten’s lightly smouldering tenor sax. This is richly evocative music with a strong pictorial quality.
“Emerald Blues” is similarly unhurried, another tune that develops slowly, organically and gradually. There’s a hint of Bill Frisell style Americana here in the leader’s loping guitar lines but Spiliotopoulos is increasingly becoming a musician who transcends his influences to create something fresh and exciting of his own. Again the leader takes the first solo, his playing exhibiting a choked intensity and displaying both rock and blues influences as Spiliotopoulos makes judicious use of the range of effects available to him. He’s again followed by Hulten’s gently needling tenor as Rundqvist turns in another superb performance behind the kit. He’s a supremely supportive accompanist and a highly effective colourist.
Spiliotopoulos adopts a more conventional jazz guitar sound as he combines effectively with Hulten on the airy “By Way of Fire”. He opens the solos with a supremely lithe piece of melodic invention, this sympathetically supported by Sollinger and Lundqvist. Hulten’s solo is no less satisfying as he broods and probes intelligently and melodically. There’s also something of a feature for the excellent Rundqvist in the closing stages of the piece.
The title “Shepherd’s Minor” appears in brackets after a word in Greek lettering that my computer keyboard can’t deal with. It’s a composition that appears to be based on Greek folk melodies and it’s the piece on the album that seems to have attracted the greatest amount of praise from other reviewers. Spiliotopoulos and Hulten double up well on the captivating theme before each delivering solos of supreme eloquence and melodic invention with Hulten this time demonstrating his abilities on soprano. I’d like to think that the English title is a nod in the direction of Asaf Sirkis’ 2013 album “Shepherd’s Stories” on which Spiliotopoulos played. This was Sirkis’ best album to date and featured the most mature, melodic and descriptive writing of his career and frequently included the use of folk motifs. Something of that album seems to have rubbed off on Spiliotopoulos who brings many of these qualities to this current recording.
The lively “Friday Frolics” signals a change in mood, pace and style with a robust slice of fusion that tips its hat in the direction of Holdsworth and others. Spiliotopoulos delivers a feverishly inventive solo that draws inspiration from his prime influence but is still very much his own while drummer Rundqvist also features prominently.
“Downfall Monologue” is more pensive and reflective with a noirish, ballad like feel. It’s notable for Hulten’s saxophone lyricism and for a beautifully melodic double bass solo from the hitherto low profile Sollinger. Meanwhile Spiliotopoulos’ guitar solo drifts and spirals delightfully like a leaf caught on a summer breeze.
“Underground” develops from a series of gentle but arresting melodic motifs to incorporate thoughtful, subtly probing solos from both Hulten and Spiliotopoulos, their efforts sympathetically underpinned by Sollinger and the consistently excellent Rundqvist. The drummer impresses throughout the album with his subtle promptings and the precise colour and detail of his playing.
The album concludes with “Old Demons” which is introduced by a lengthy passage of circling, layered guitars – a nod perhaps to the progressive rock influences that helped to inspire Spiliotopoulos’ work with Asaf Sirkis. The main body of the piece also exhibits an element of prog-rock grandeur (in a good way) as he creates a towering sonic backdrop behind Hulten’s incisive soprano solo. Elsewhere Spilotopoulos’ own solo exhibits his customary fluency, melodic flair and harmonic invention.
“In the North” represents Spiliotopoulos’ most satisfying album to date. Its focus on strong melodic themes allied to some highly accomplished ensemble playing results in music that is rich in colour and invention and which has a strong cinematic quality. Each individual track represents its own fully realised sound world while the album itself achieves a remarkable level of consistency and cohesiveness. The soloing of both Spiliotopoulos and Hulten is bright, colourful and full of imagination but there are no ego trips, no matter how inventive the solos become they always serve the music. A strong sense of overall structure is present throughout, a sign of Spiliotopoulos’s growing maturity as a musician and composer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this album and on this evidence the move to Stockholm seems to have been exactly the right one for Siliotopoulos. However I’m pleased to report that he will be returning to the UK in September and October 2016 to tour with this quartet, dates as follows;
UK TOUR AUTUMN 2016
September 27th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Dempsey’s Jazz, Cardiff, UK
September 28th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Queen’s Head, Monmouth, UK
September 29th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Soundcellar, Poole, UK
September 30th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham, UK
October 25th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, St. ives Jazz Club, Cornwall, UK
October 26th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Speakeasy, Torquay, UK
October 27th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, tbc
October 28th -Tassos Spiliotopoulos Quartet, Fleece Jazz, Suffolk, UK
More information at http://www.tassos-spiliotopoulos.com
Finally a heads up to Birmingham based photographer Gary Corbett who provided the front cover image for this album, a photograph taken at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury on 10th October 2015 when Spiliotopoulos was appearing as part of an all star quintet led by Asaf Sirkis.
blog comments powered by Disqus