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Sirkis/Bialas IQ: Our New Earth

Mark Sullivan By

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Established in 2014, when this band released its first album Come To Me (Stonebird Productions, 2015; limited distribution by MoonJune Records) it called itself The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet. It has shortened the name to Sirkis/Bialas IQ, but it's still international: Asaf Sirkis (drums) is an Israeli living in England; Sylwia Bialas (vocals) is a Pole living in Germany; Frank Harrison (keyboards) is English; and Scot Kevin Glasgow (six string electric bass) replaces American Patrick Bettison (electric bass/chromatic harmonica).

The band is also just as smart as the "IQ" label implies. As on its debut, the music is upbeat contemporary jazz with a worldwide perspective. Co-leaders Sirkis and Bialas composed all of the music (each is responsible for about half of the tunes), with Bialas taking credit for all of the lyrics (also half of the tracks). Since the lyrics are in Polish, for many listeners there won't be much difference between the songs with lyrics and the vocalese. The liner notes do include both the Polish lyrics and English translations (presented in a visually striking parallel graphic display in the CD booklet).

After an atmospheric introduction, Bialis' "If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly In Spirals)" kicks off the set with a rousing vocalise theme. It immediately establishes Bialis' role in the ensemble as an equal member, as much a horn as a voice. In fact, Harrison takes an expansive piano solo before she reenters to sing the lyrics. "Land of Oblivion" opens with an unaccompanied bass solo (joined by vocal for a brief duet). Glasgow plays a guitar-like role here, which serves as a substitute for the chromatic harmonica on the previous album (a distinctive voice which is missed). The volume-swelled chords further extend the guitar impression. "Letter To A." is the first demonstration of Harrison's pipe organ playing (a rich, unusual instrumental color in a jazz group), which also plays a prominent role on the title tune.

Bialis also sometimes overdubs harmonies, as she does on her own "Reminiscence." And she employs overtone singing on "Rooting," as she had done on the debut. That World Music focus is even stronger on the title tune, which finds both leaders singing konnakol—a system of percussion syllables practiced in South Indian Carnatic music—which Sirkis has recently made instructional YouTube videos for in his "Mastering Rhythm With Konnakol" series. After a drum solo including accompanying konnakol, "Pictures From A Polish Wood" ends the album with bird calls.

This was a striking, original sounding band on its debut, full of energy and joy in music making together, and a contemporary jazz sound drawing from broad European, American and Middle Eastern musical influences. This sophomore effort is both broader and deeper, with darker emotional tones and additional influences (most notably the South Indian Carnatic techniques). It establishes Sirkis/Bialas IQ as a band to watch.

Track Listing: If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly In Spirals); Land Of Oblivion; Letter To A.; Reminiscence; Chiaroscuro; Rooting; Our New Earth; Message From The Blue Bird; Spooky Action At The Distance; Nocturnity; Picture From A Polish Wood.

Personnel: Asaf Sirkis: drums, crotales (3, 6, 7, 10), konnakol (7, 11), manjira (7), frame drums (7); Sylvia Bialas: voice, waterphone (7, 9), overtone singing (6), lyrics (1, 2, 5, 10), konnakol (7); Frank Harrison: piano (1, 2, 4-6, 8, 10), keyboards (1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 11); Kevin Glasgow: six string electric bass.

Title: Our New Earth | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: MoonJune Records

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