Tag Archives: Asaf Sirkis

Yuri Goloubev – Titanic for a Bike – 2011

I imagine that every musician has a favourite instrument, and also a least favourite one, an instrument that they do battle with and try in vain to master. Fortunately for us, the double bass on Titanic for a Bike by Yuri Goloubev falls into the former camp. It is a Hungarian Janos Bogdany bass and has the sweetest sound in the hands of this Russian bass player who now lives in Italy. Yuri came to jazz from a very successful classical career in Russia. He calls jazz his “true call” and since 2001 he has played all over the world with many famous artists.

Having seen Yuri with John Law last November at the QEH during the London Jazz Festival and more recently with Alex Hutton in a tiny venue in Stratford, I am struck by his modest, unassuming stance in performance despite his staggering pedigree as prize winner and Professor. He is mesmeric on stage, his gaze focussed, he frowns in concentration yet his fingers tell you that his technique is natural and effortless. You are swept away by his lyricism and the gorgeous sound whether his is barely skimming the strings or playing very fast indeed. He takes a delight in beautiful instruments. Talking about venues with pianos, I told him that the Parabola in Cheltenham has a Fazioli, and his eyes lit up with joy!

This lovely album consists of ten tracks – eight by Yuri, one by long-standing collaborator, Asaf Sirkis, and one arrangement. Yuri and Asaf are joined by Julian Argüelles on sax and Claudio Filippini on piano. It is a wonderful combination, no-one dominates, there is a chamber feel. The sound is clear, like mountain air. Claudio Filippini is a revelation (to me) on piano, a lyrical pianist who I will enjoy discovering on his recent album with Olavi Louhivuori and Palle Danielsson, Facing North. Julian’s delicate reedy soprano is showed to advantage in the intricate soaring melodies in four tracks.

The opening track Sailing (by Asaf) sets a romantic tone with a serene opening between gently rocking piano and a bass melody that floats and soars. The title track refers to a real life situation of a cyclist wearing headphones singing along to the Titanic movie theme at the top of his voice, an odd image! It is a great track with a sawing bass creating tension – will this bike crash? Another track is called Bill Gates Amongst Us, a reference to a former Windows start-up sound played by Julian Argüelles. There is a quirky, eccentric feel to the titles and a personal touch to the liner notes. Other tracks are unashamedly romantic and Russian in feel – love stories, waltzes, remembrances of Schloss Elmau. This album has very quickly become a favourite of mine for its heavenly melodies, gentleness and tranquility.

Yuri often plays with John Law or Alex Hutton, both of whom are touring this year. If you can, see Yuri live, he is intense and unforgettable.

Yuri Goloubev

Julian Argüelles, soprano sax
Claudio Filippini, piano
Yuri Goloubev, acoustic bass
Asaf Sirkis, drums


Titanic for a Bike is available from jazzcds

Review: John Law Trio, QEH,17 Nov 2012, London Jazz Festival

When I reviewed John Law’s Three Leaps of the Gazelle earlier this year I really hoped I could see him live so I could thank him for his beautiful music. So it was a no-brainer to book to see him, even in a festival where we were faced with agonising choices, where so many acts clashed in the schedule. John’s performance at the London Jazz Festival goes down as one of my highlights of the festival. He joked that he had performed at the Purcell Room, now the QEH, would it be the Royal Festival Hall next? Well, why not? He has a stellar trio with Asaf Sirkis on percussion and Yuri Goloubev on bass. Yuri was the surprise to me – his diffident seated stance disguising absolutely extraordinary command of his bass, particularly in Three Part Invention and Finger on the Pulse.

The trio played compositions from Three Leaps of the Gazelle but deepened them with more obvious and daring electronics, making the most of the perfect piano and the vast space. So Insistence which starts gently with crickets (the insect) quickly became darker and sinister. It is easy to take John’s wonderful playing for granted, the tunes flow so naturally, the colours and pace are so varied, it looks effortless. Three Part Invention allowed Asaf to play full blast with a stunning solo. This was a lovely contrast to his earlier delicate brushwork sounding like a small animal running in the snow in Counting Snowflakes. By now the full house was gripped, the twiddly electronics, the piano like an irregularly dripping tap, the magical sounds of the glockenspiel and the beautiful tune had us all remembering childhood Christmases when we did indeed watch individual snowflakes. And it wasn’t only the audience who were moved – several times Asaf or John waved a hand at Yuri as if to say ” Oh my goodness, just listen to this guy tonight, he is inspired”. And yes, he was, they all were. The electronics really made it – they weren’t just another extraordinary piano trio (we had that with Brad Mehldau earlier in the week), they were being daring, and it paid off. If the audience had just come to see Egberto Gismondi then they came away with having seen an amazing set from John.

I have a feeling that Three Leaps of the Gazelle is going to be in my top 5 albums of this year and this live performance convinces me of this. This was a gig where I would have welcomed a second set.

Review: Simcock/Garland/Sirkis – Lighthouse at Brecon Jazz Festival 11 August 2012

There was a real buzz of excitement at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, it was Saturday night and Lighthouse were up against the men’s 5000m race at the Olympic Stadium!  Lighthouse are a super-group comprising Tim Garland on various reeds, Gwilym Simcock on piano and Asaf Sirkis on percussion.  In their 75 minutes set we were treated to most of the album called Lighthouse (released earlier this year, celebrating their signing to ACT) and some old and new material.

What’s different about Lighthouse? Well, no bass for a start. And a fascinating drum kit for Asaf to conjure delightful sounds out of.   Not just a hang, but tiny cymbals, tambourines played like drums, tinkly bells and an earthenware instrument called an udu which looks like the moroccan tagine you might cook in.  Asaf plays the hang in the orthodox way with his fingers (not the Portico Quartet way) and in his hands it becomes a magical thing, the sound floating around the theatre, lingering in our memories still longer.   His extended solo on ‘King Barolo’ was a delight. We hear his interest in Indian rhythms, his pleasure in playing is captivating.

Here’s their genius, ‘One morning’ is a hymn to a new saxophone and a lament for a lost friend. It manages to be both wistful and celebratory at the same time.  Tim’s sax is at its most silky on ‘King Barolo’.  He played bass clarinet on the Spanish-influenced ‘Bajo del Sol’, Asaf’s drums reminding me of leopard running across a savannah.

It’s always a delight to listen to Gwilym’s light touch, especially evident in the thoughtful ‘The Wind on the Water’.  He manages to play a lot of notes without it sounding cluttered or heavy. He reminds me a little of John Taylor, with his delicacy, space and pastoral calm. I would say “Englishness” but Gwilym is, of course, Welsh.

The new tracks were ‘Empires’ by Gwilym and an amusing piece called ‘Accidental Tango’.  ‘Empires’ contained very dense layers of sound and different textures broken by delicate plucking of the piano strings. Tim told us that Astor Piazzolla described the best tempo for a tango as like someone standing behind you with a knife. With that scarey thought in mind the artists tried to trip each other up with abrupt stops and starts in ‘Accidental Tango’.   Like mind-readers they did not falter, they are a supergroup after all. At one stage all three artists were playing percussion and enjoying it immensely.

There are two tracks that I think are crying out for release as vinyl singles (if ACT does such a popular thing?). They are ‘Space Junk’ with its heavy insistent nightclub-like beat and the danceable ‘King Barolo’ with instantly memorable tune picked out by the hang.  I feel very strongly that tunes are important in engaging an audience and maybe a younger one.  As Branford Marsalis puts it in a recent Jazzwise article (Aug 2012) “the audience is not interested in doing extra homework to appreciate a jazz concert”.  So tunes and a strong beat are a way in.  Space Junk quickly leaves clubbing behind with its jaunty haunting melodica (a harmonica-like instrument, the sound we love on Asaf’s ‘Other Stars and Planets’). It opens the album and gets you in the mood for all the surprises to come.

The sound mixing at Theatr Brycheiniog was perfect and appreciated by artists and audience.    If I have one tiny reservation about them, it is to wonder why there is no material by Asaf in their repertoire?

And did they take our minds off the 5000m race? Well yes they did, until we got home!





Review: John Law’s Congregation – Three Leaps of the Gazelle

John Law decided to use this evocative title because he liked the image of a constellation called Three Leaps of the Gazelle and he used it for the cover.  It is a striking cover – a far cry, and literally eons, from the contemplative cloisters of his last album (reviewed by me here ).  The origin of the phrase three leaps of the gazelle is from astronomy, three pairs of stars marking the hoof prints of a startled gazelle as it tried to escape a lion.   More interestingly, the Arabic root of Gazelle means to display amorous behavior; to court, to woo.   A ghazal is a particular type of Persian poem which most often expresses the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The gazelle is an appropriate image with its delicacy and limpid eyes.

OK so what has this to do with this very striking album? Well more than I realised on first listening.  There is an Arabic feel to this album and it’s not just Asaf’s darbuka which gives it this flavour.  Track five, Insistence, starts with the sound of crickets, you are in the desert, it is dusk, maybe there is a fire, fireflies flit around, the piano meanders in circles like a dance, a slightly sinister one with muffled piano, the drums are Arabic sounding, and then more crickets and it is dark – maybe you will see the constellation?

What I really love about John Law’s compositions is their subtlety. Effects are used sparingly, gently introduced on an ipod for live performance – the crickets in Insistence, the sound of New York traffic and chatting in a jazz club at the start of Swazz,  the delicate fall of snowflakes (what else but a glockenspiel and some very high notes?).    No danger of electronics adding stress to a performance.

He is joined on this album by Asaf Sirkis on drums and Yuri Goloubev on bass, both extraordinary.  I love Asaf’s understated performance on this album, the exception to quiet being his solo in Three Part Invention ( I know he can  play loud!) but most of the time his playing is delicate and shimmering, like a breath of wind.   And Yuri brings Russian passion and Italian flare to the trio – his own website is in English and Italian. His bowing is exquisite and is given full rein in the title track.   It goes without saying that John’s playing is awe-inspiring – a combination of heart and mind which I find irresistible.

With John you are never too far from classical music – his choice of Schumann’s Traumerei  which creeps into Finger on the Pulse has also been used by Robert Mitchell on The Embrace. His tribute to Baroque is Three Part Invention, which he started on his album Congregation, taking it to another level here. The nimbleness of Yuri’s fingering  (or is it bowing?) is breathtaking.

My favourite composition is Triadic Ballet – it’s a gentle tango with angular movements and undercurrents of passion and leaving – that ghazal poem again.

There are glorious tunes galore on this album, it will stay in my listening pile for a very long time.  There is indeed a sense of loss when you get to the end of this album, like a ghazal poem, you have been held by its spell for 78 mins.  One day I hope to see John again, so I can thank him for his magical music which touches me so deeply.


John Law, piano, keyboard, ipod

Yuri Goloubev, double bass

Asaf Sirkis, drums, percussion, glockenspiel, darbuka

All compositions by John Law

Three Leaps of the Gazelle, John Law’s Congregation featuring Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis, 2012  (33 Records 33JAZZ228) available from http://www.33jazz.com/




Review: John Law’s Congregation – the art of sound vol 4

There are several tracks on this exquisite album which remind me of the subtle, calm world of a Vermeer painting.  Much of this album is understated, from the ghostly cathedral on the cover, the limited pallet of colours on the sleeve, the carefully chosen photograph of the artists wearing toning shades of grey.   Much of the joy of a Vermeer is standing as close to it as the gallery attendants will let you stand, and entering its gentle world of reflection, quiet study, order and shared secrets and then drifting away from it, the colours and atmosphere engrained in your memory to be enjoyed long afterwards.

And so it is with John Law’s Congregation the art of sound volume 4.  Unlike Vermeer whose paintings are few, John has a large discography of piano trio works and solo albums.  Perhaps the title ” the art of sound ” is a tribute to Brad Mehldau whose Art of the Trio albums marked his development over several years?    But John is more than an English Brad Mehldau, he has a very distinctive voice and you can hear it most clearly in volume 4 of this series. He has created an exceptional trio in Sam Burgess on bass and Asaf Sirkis in drums.

When you first listen to this album you will notice the extrovert tracks, most notably the title track Congregation. I defy you not to want to leap around the room during this one.  This is not a trio of three separate musicians, no, they work as one. Even when one player has the limelight you are aware of the others, right there, just a millisecond behind, they pass the tunes around as skillfully as footballers, never let it falter for a moment. Trap Clap is a witty piece with subtle effects (clapping, fuzzy piano).

All the tracks stand alone. Three Part Invention is a homage to Bach and a perfect one at that..  But for me the real joy of this album are the works that remind me of Vermeer – The Ghost in the Oak and Watching, Waiting (for Tom Cawley). These are works of the heart as well as the brain.  John is not just a clever pianist, he creates works which move you. They repay close scrutiny with your mind but also with your heart.   The Ghost in the Oak is heartbreakingly beautiful.   The bass sounds like a cello, the percussion ticks, the piano mesmerises you like the ebb and flow of the sea. You are in a quiet room and you never want to leave.

Watching, Waiting ( for Tom Cawley) is a gem.   There are many layers of delicate sound,  from the ripple of the piano, the lovely melody on bass to the magical, fairytale tinkle of glockenspiel. Then these delicate strata come crashing up against piano and percussion then just as quickly subside – it’s a masterpiece, giving you more to listen to each time.

John Law, piano, clapping

Sam Burgess, double bass

Asaf Sirkis, drums, percussion, glockenspiel, darbuka

Congregation – The Art of Sound, Volume 4, John Law, Sam Burgess, Asaf Sirkis, 2009 (33 Records 33JAZZ193)