Tag Archives: Asaf Sirkis

Preview: Festival of the guitar: Stratford Jazz March-June 2014

guitaristI am calling it a Festival of the Guitar: It was a masterly stroke of scheduling – Stratford Jazz features some of the most exciting guitarists on the UK scene in the next few months so here’s my preview of six gigs worth turning out for.  What’s thrilling for me is that we get to hear very different styles of music, guitars, guitar playing and influences.

First up we host John Law’s Boink! on 12 March. The guitarist in question is Rob Palmer  who I last saw at Sherborne Jazz with Jon Lloyd and John Law. Boink!  is the latest project from John Law  which takes him away from acoustic pianos and into the world of electronica and interactive visuals. Intrigued?   In a recent interview in Jazz UK (issue 115) Rob said that the electronic backing tracks are composed leaving the musicians free to improvise 90% of the time.  It will be a combination of total freedom and totally composed music, he says.

No sign of electronics with our next guitarist, the acoustic and classical guitarist Maciek Pysz who makes his debut appearance at Stratford Jazz with his stellar trio of Yuri Goloubev on double bass and Asaf Sirkis on percussion on 26 March. Maciek is on an extensive UK tour promoting his album Insight  which received rave reviews across the globe last year. He appears at Stratford the day after an important gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London with a guest appearance by Tim Garland who recently signed to Edition Records.  Insight was my album of 2013 so I can’t really add more other than to say that the last time I saw this trio they blew the roof off Kings Place, gathering a larger crowd in the foyer than in some of the concert halls.  They filled the huge space, just as they filled the windy park at Ealing Jazz Festival last year. We can expect a more intimate, conversational evening of Maciek’s beautiful lyrical compositions, exquisite arco bowing from Yuri and sensitive percussion from Asaf.  As Maciek said in an interview in 2011,  ‘I do not want to be perceived only as a jazz guitarist, I’m an acoustic guitarist who mixes genres’ and therein lies his attraction. His influences are John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner and Al Di Meola yet he sounds like none of these, he has his own voice.

 On 9 April we host Phil Robson with his new organ trio featuring Gene Calderazzo on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ.  Phil Robson’s discography contains a jazz who’s who of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – Mark Turner, Michael Janisch, Christine Tobin (the celebrated Sailing to Byzantium), John Taylor, Liam Noble – and he brings a breath of New York to Stratford with his drummer, whose drumming John Fordham described as scalding!  Listening to their demo clip on Soundcloud I was minded of Steely Dan  – that was just the organ I imagine, but we can expect what Roy Stevens is already predicting will be the gig of the year at Stratford!

On 14 May we are joined by a newly formed band called The Orient Quartet. This features Dan Messore on guitar. Dan’s own quartet called Indigo Kid features none other than Iain Ballamy. Kevin le Gendre said of Dan ‘It’s fair to quote names like Pat Metheny and Frissell as references but the seam of jazz Messore is mining goes back further to such as Charlie Byrd and Jim Hall’.  Combine this with Steve Waterman‘s trumpet (as heard on Carla Bley’s albums on ECM) and you can see we have a very heavyweight new band.

On 11 June we feature Nic Meier who brings his glissentar with its eleven fretless strings which provides more than a touch of the orient to the sound, a heady mix of Turkey, central Europe, Iberia and the Americas.  His quartet features the artists who appear on his recent album Kismet. Look out for his flamenco treatment of Coltrane’s Giant Steps!

Our final guitarist is Jon Dalton on 25 June. Jon has been playing guitar since he was seven and cites Wes Montgomery as an influence. He brings a trio with a Hammond organ virtuoso so we can expect a vibrant set. If you like Gibson guitars then come along!

So join us for these wonderful gigs, and keep jazz alive outside London.

All gigs start at 8pm and tickets on the door are £10/£12 for Phil Robson, half price for students. We look forward to welcoming you to our jazz club and our Festival of the Guitar.

https://www.facebook.com/stratfordjazz.org.uk  

http://www.stratfordjazz.org.uk/ and https://twitter.com/StratfordJazz

Image by Joep Olthuis
Mary James 22 February 2014

Album and gig review: Jon Lloyd Group: Vanishing Points (released Sept 2013)

JonLloydGroupThis is an extremely elegant album.  I don’t know why I am surprised at saying this. I suppose I thought that saxophonist Jon Lloyd, a musician who has spent his life exploring the boundaries of structure and freedom, would be challenging, in a negative sense. I was wrong.  At Sherborne Jazz Club on 7 December, tempted out by the name  ‘John Law’ I once more saw piano and fender rhodes in mutual support (the earlier occasion was Brad Mehldau at the Barbican).  If I had been distracted by the pianist, then it took only a few minutes to realise that this is a very special group led by a very expressive, communicative and generous leader.  The lineup on paper was breathtaking – Asaf Sirkis, Tom Farmer and Rob Palmer. Last minute changes of personnel saw Mark Whitlam and Joe Limburn replace the drummer and bass player respectively. They both had the gig of their lives, showing no signs of being replacements.  They were sensitively supported and encouraged by Jon and John, allowed solos and the freedom of their illustrious forebears on the album. It was a memorable evening, serving as a reminder, if one were needed, that excellent, accessible and enjoyable jazz can be heard outside London, you just have to make an effort to get there. The experience of the evening was an accurate flavour of the album.

All nine compositions are gems.  The exquisite X and Y  opens the album with buoyant bubbling soprano sax.  Even at its most penetrating, it has a warm, serene, caramel sound. The melody is pastoral, gentle, songlike. The lyricism of John Law is always heart stopping, such delicate shading, especially in Yaga where the piano could be a sitar. In 5678 I felt we were in square dance territory, where quick footwork was needed as the time signatures crossed, got jumbled and tripped each other up. It was fun!  I thought ‘This isn’t free jazz, I can hum this (phew!)’ and I relaxed, and so became more receptive to the delicacies on offer: the symphonic, almost-classical opening to V Points where the piano solo, with gentle snowflake motif (a signature John Law effect), creates a mood of uneasiness echoed by the slowly burning guitar, the wary walk of the sax towards a guitar that howls, a sense of chaos and pain which gently fades.  The thrum of fingers on piano wires.   There are many strands in this music, you uncover them with repeated listening. It is harmonious and democratic, there is no need for extended solos, yet take any instrument away and you would miss it. 

The video below, from June 2010 (and not on the album), is a wonderful taster of this very classy quintet, with slight changes of personnel.   They deserve greater recognition for the beauty of the harmonies and melodies, the purity and serenity of the saxophone, the electronic subtleties, its modesty despite a starry lineup.  The group tours in 2014, please go and see them! This group must not vanish.

Jon Lloyd Group: Vanishing Points

All compositions by Jon Lloyd except Improv (Lloyd/Farmer/Sirkis)

Jon Lloyd, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
John Law, piano, fender rhodes
Rob Palmer, electric guitar
Tim Farmer, double bass
Asaf Sirkis, drums

Jon Lloyd

Mary James 17 December 2013

Some thoughts on Rothko, megalithic architecture and jazz…

I felt at home in the 6000 year old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Paola, Malta. The shapes were familiar, I had seen them in Rothko. These mysterious underground chambers, majestic burial places, were excavated by hand using tools of antler and flint, the limestone smooth as silk. Their perfect proportions of aperture and lintel thickness struck me as timeless. These softly lit caverns awed us to silence. In our mind’s eyes, we heard the scrape of flint on stone, the drip of rainwater in winter, the quiet conversation of the workmen eons ago. In a museum in Valletta we saw some offerings to the dead taken from these chambers. A tiny sleeping woman, fashioned from stone, her winter skirt of sheepskin-like stone gently crinkled at its hem, her best skirt. Such humanity touches us across the millennia. Move forward to the 20th century, and Rothko. His Red on Maroon could overwhelm you. Those huge vertical columns and apertures look like windows or doors, the sombre tones shift as you gaze at them, making you feel uneasy. But there is nothing there.

Maroon by Maciek Pysz on his album Insight was inspired by this same Rothko. It’s contemplative, and unlike the other compositions on this album, this one is not sunlit, it is permeated by loss and reflective sadness. As I stood in one of the chambers of the Hypogeum I heard Asaf Sirkis’s gentle udu drum, it could have been the patter of rainwater, or a drum from 6000 years ago. Yuri Goloubev’s delicate bass playing could just as easily have been inspired by the painting or the need to ease our passage from life to the afterlife as I experienced in those cool chambers.

All too soon, we were in a sunlit street, wondering if we had imagined all that was beneath our feet, marvelling that such beauty could have been visualised by our ancestors and then made to happen.

the-hal-salfieni-hypogeum

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

www.asafsirkis.co.uk

Launch and album review: Maciek Pysz Trio – Insight – released May 2013

Maciek Pysz is a Polish guitarist and composer joined on Insight by longstanding partners Asaf Sirkis on percussion and Yuri Goloubev on double bass. The album comprises eight compositions and arrangements by Maciek and one with Gianluca Corona. The sleeve notes make clear that many of the intricate compositions were born out of imagining (or experiencing) loneliness or loss, but also wonder at the world and its beauty. They are very personal, we get an insight into Maciek’s life and thoughts. And the output we hear is the result of five years playing together and it is world class.

On the sleeve of Insight, insight is defined as “the act… of understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively”. So at the launch of the album last night (22 May 2013) at The Forge in London, I was interested in seeing how this idea would be conveyed. The cover shows Maciek with eyes closed, in contemplation or meditation. Yet it would be impossible to perform in a trio if you were wrapt in yourself. So in performance, Maciek’s eyes smile with pleasure, Yuri’s are focussed on his music stand with the occasional flick of eyelids to communicate approval or wry amusement, and Asaf keeps his eyes closed most of the time (like many drummers) except when waving an arm at Yuri or Maciek as if to say “Wow!”

It was an evening to gasp, not just at Maciek’s breathtaking skills, conjuring the most delicate sounds out of steel and nylon wire, nor at Yuri’s serene arco playing on his double bass with antique patina, or Asaf’s magical patter on the udu drum or beats so fast and hard they sounded like firecrackers. You gasped because it sounded fluent and effortless, and because it made you feel so happy. An album launch should always be a joyful occasion but this one felt particularly so, there were many Polish people there, at least half of whom were women (yes, rare at jazz) and Maciek’s father present to crown it all. At one stage a small group near the stage moved as if to dance, and really that would have been most appropriate, it was hard to keep in your seat.

We had a few minutes of unaccompanied guitar in Recuerdos de la Alhambra (the classical piece by Francisco Tárrega). And a new composition called Tangella ( to the tango) which is not on the album. I think we heard all the album tracks with a bonus of hearing the eponymous title as an encore (at a slower tempo) as well as earlier in the set list. The sound was beautifully balanced, you could hear fingers on strings, delicate jingles of bells around Asaf’s ankles. The album has a similarly gorgeous sound being recorded, mixed and mastered by Stephano Amerio. Highly recommended.

Maciek is performing with this trio at Kings Place on Saturday 14 September 2013.

Maciek Pysz
Maciek Pysz, acoustic and classical guitars
Asaf Sirkis, percussion
Yuri Goloubev, double bass

Insight is available from http://www.maciekpysz.com/