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Asaf Sirkis Trio: Asaf Sirkis Trio: Shepherd's Stories

John Kelman By

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It's getting to the point where it's almost impossible to pigeonhole an artist into any one category---and that can't be anything but a good thing. Sure, some people like to think of the artists they love as jazz, rock or classical musicians, but the truth is that, more and more, musicians simply want to be thought of as people who play music. Still, there's an intrinsic need to categorize music, if for no other reason than to help provide some context in order to help others decide whether or not it's something they might like. There's little doubt, based on his pedigree and C.V., that drummer Asaf Sirkis is, if a category is necessary, a jazz musician. Whether playing with lightning-fast intuitive reflexes with the nearly decade-old trio most recently called simply Simcock Garland Sirkis and heard on 2012's stellar Lighthouse (ACT), recording seven albums with fellow Israeli expat Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble or working with rising star Nicolas Meier, Atzmon's continually building reputation as drummer/percussionist of choice remains unabated.

But as wonderful as his work with others has been, Sirkis has also established himself as a thinking man's leader with two groups: first, his Inner Noise Trio that, with keyboardist Steve Lodder and vastly underappreciated guitarist Mike Outram, released three records, culminating in the particularly wonderful, church organ-driven The Song Within (SAM, 2007), an album that suggested how Olivier Messiaen might have sounded, were he to write for an improvising jazz trio. Since that time, however, in-between his busy schedule collaborating with others, Sirkis has focused on a more conventionally constructed guitar/bass/drums trio that, featuring Greek six-stringer Tassos Spiliotopoulos and fellow Israeli, electric bassist Yaron Stavi, is anything but conventional.

Much has transpired since the trio's impressive debut, The Monk (SAM, 2008)—which also featured guest keyboardist Gary Husband, a meaningful choice since he was also a reference point for Sirkis in his better-known capacity as a drummer. Guitar legend Allan Holdsworth, with whom Husband also played, continues to be a touchstone, both for some of Sirkis' writing—in particular the buoyant opener, "1801," though through Spiliotopoulos' expansive voicings and legato approach, what this trio does that Holdsworth (especially in recent times) does not, is breathe. Spiliotopoulos can surely shred with the best of them, and Sirkis' nimble kit work both supports and suggests, while Stavi proves it's possible to be both an anchor and a melodic foil. But there's also an intrinsic lyricism at work, elevated into more atmospheric territory with the addition of John Turville (making the first of two guest appearances on Fender Rhodes). The end result is music that's more eminently accessible and less a pure exercise in testosterone and muscle.

Elsewhere the group's core melodism and penchant for space is even more evident on the balladic "Eyes Tell" and, in particular, "Traveller," where guest vocalist Sylwia Bialas layers multiple vocals to create a simple but compelling theme that serves as a jumping off point for Stavi's equally focused, motif-centric bass solo.

"Meditation" begins, as its title suggest, in more ethereal territory, Spiliotopoulos' reverb-drenched guitar creating clouds both cirrus and cumulonimbus. Stavi once again assumes a core melodic role until Sirkis enters and drives the pedal tone-based piece into more decidedly rocking territory—the perfect setup for "Dream Sister," which follows, opening with some of the drummer's most incendiary playing of the set only to settle into a lighter-textured, cymbal-driven space where Stavi's theme is bolstered by Spiliotopoulos' expansive chordal support, leading to Turville's second—and best—guest spot: a slowly intensifying solo that sets the context for Spiliotopoulos to wax Holdsworthian, but again with a penchant for thematic constructs that both distinguish and define his playing.

The final guest on Shepherd's Stories is Gareth Lockrane, whose impressive, rich-toned flute adds another dimension to this collection of Sirkis compositions already crossing numerous dimensions to occupy a broader continuum. With each recording by this trio, Sirkis has invited guests to expand its tonal palette, but without the strength of the three players at its heart, Shepherd's Stories would be merely an impressively performed selection of music ranging from firebrand to pastoral. Instead, what Sirkis has accomplished, with the help of Stavi and Spiliotopoulos, is to expand upon the music he first began with his Inner Noise group, building a discography that's positioning Sirkis as more than just a fine percussionist, but a bandleader and composer of increasing significance to boot.

Track Listing: 1801; Eyes Tell; Traveller; Meditation; Dream Sister; Together; Shepherd’s Stories; Two Part Melody.

Personnel: Asaf Sirkis; drums; Yaron Stavi: electric bass; Tassos Spiliotopoulos: electric and acoustic guitars; Sylwia Bialas: voice (3); Gareth Lockrane: flute: (6); John Turville: Fender Rhodes (1, 5).

Title: Asaf Sirkis Trio: Shepherd's Stories | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Stonebird Productions


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