Album review: Asaf Sirkis Trio: Shepherd’s Stories – released July 2013

A sheep and a lamb gambol on a green hillside, the artists stand in a forest, they wear hoods – they could be shepherds. They aren’t of course, they are members of the outstanding trio of drummer Asaf Sirkis. This is the same trio that gave us Letting Go in 2010. And now this album, Shepherd’s Stories. It’s as if those three years are just a few minutes, as if time does not really matter to Asaf. The haunting harmonica of the earlier album has made way for voice and flute, and just as effectively. The trio has its own recognisable sound – a mix of out-of-this-world pulsating guitar trajectories and shimmering, sizzling, explosive percussion. The guests add more than colour, they add another dimension, a very human one that we can connect with.

In the sleeve notes Asaf tells us that Shepherd’s Stories are reminders of where we have come from, they are metaphors for feelings deep within us, that come unprompted when we hear certain melodies. In a well-balanced album, this idea of atavistic memory is most strikingly demonstrated in two tracks – Traveller and Together. In Traveller, the gentle, cool and beautiful voice of Sylwia Bialas takes us to distant lands where shepherds guard their flocks, where simple tunes move us, where we feel at home. This simplicity is deceptive, it hides complex bass picking, the subtlest drumming and blended voices. Then in Together the ravishing, mellifluous flute of Gareth Lockrane takes me straight into the Middle East, to an almost biblical time. As a boy, did Asaf hear melodies like this one float across hillsides in his native Israel? It is quite timeless, Asaf is right, we already know this tune, this touching emotion, even though most of us lead urban lives. The opening is like the breathing you adopt in meditation, you push other thoughts aside as you relax. You might have imagined from looking at the instrumentation (guitars and drums), and hearing the searing guitar on the first track, that this would be a rock-jazz album but it isn’t, it is overwhelmingly serene and very rewarding.

This album will definitely grow on you. Highly recommended.

Asaf Sirkis

All compositions by Asaf Sirkis

Asaf Sirkis, drums
Yaron Stavi, electric bass
Tassos Spiliotopoulos, electric and acoustic guitars
with guests Sylwia Bialas, voice; Gareth Lockrane, flute; and John Turville, fender rhodes

Album review: Alex Jønsson 3: The Lost Moose – released May 2013

There are some people who are very fortunate to hear music in colour. At the recent Cheltenham Science Festival I saw the emergence of a beautiful piece of abstract art painted in front of our eyes whilst we listened to a live performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The artist Philippa Stanton has synaesthesia, she “sees” sounds as moving images and she captures them in colours. The result was stunning: deep blues and purples for lower register notes, a serene green midway and paler shades for higher notes. Only on stepping back could we appreciate the beauty and harmony of the creation. How we respond to music is subjective but, in those with the condition, the brain consistently associates sounds with specific colours. The condition is prevalent in one to two per cent of the population and unsurprisingly, perhaps, there is a higher incidence in musicians.

I am not a synesthete but for me The Lost Moose by the Alex Jønsson 3 is delicate shades of landscape grey, aqua and moss, and it has the same effect as a very fine woollen sweater, its absense of weight deceptive. The subtle fairy-tale-feel album cover probably stimulated this response even before I heard the first notes. The Lost Moose is the debut album by Danish guitarist Alex Jønsson, who is joined by Lars Greve on clarinet and saxophone, and Christian Windfeld on drums. The opening track sets the tone, you wonder if you are hearing a lute rather than a guitar, there is a 16th century melancholy feel in the first minute and it never leaves you till the last note of Näkemiin, (Til we meet again). It’s a pilgrimage, we pass through the ancient capital and see a Gothic cathedral, spend idyllic time in tiny remote villages and islands, relish food, experience vertigo, run out of painkillers and say goodbye to those we meet on the road. A timeless road trip rendered in muted colours. Its minimalism is its strength, you can appreciate each delicate sound. Everything is pared back, slowed down. I can imagine words to these lovely tunes, a voice complementing the clarinet. It is not all quietness: in Afraid of heights I do feel I am looking over the edge, it’s quite scary, the earth seems to shake, the guitar and drums a shock after the gentleness.

This is a very beautiful album which succeeds perfectly in creating a consistent and sustained atmosphere through a very rich palate of sounds (or subtle colours). Alex is part of Foyn Trio!, a delightfully quirky jazz crossover band where he plays guitar and backing vocals, and their Joy Visible was nominated for a Danish Music Award. With this pedigree behind him already, in The Lost Moose he has created a distinctive distant world, one in which to lose yourself, one which leaves you enriched by its gentleness and space. Highly recommended.

The Lost Moose

All compositions by Alex Jønsson

It was recorded in Studio Epidemin in Gothenburg, Sweden and recorded & mixed by Johannes Lundberg. Mastered by Petter Eriksson.

Alex Jønsson, guitar
Lars Greve, clarinet and saxophone
Christian Windfeld, drums

The Lost Moose available at