A lament for our damaged earth, a prayer for a better future, Sirkis/Bialas IQ's second recording, after its well-received debut Come To Me
(Stonebird Productions, 2015), is an ambitious, far-reaching work. Contemporary jazz with a world view, Our New Earth
draws from Middle Eastern, Southern Indian carnatic, Eastern European folk and contemporary classical traditions. That it all flows together so seamlessly says much for the writing and arrangements of Asaf Sirkis
and Sylwia Bialas
. It also underlines the benefits of road-testing material
before going into the studio, as Sirkis Bialas IQ did, beginning in early 2018.
This double CD weighs in at around eighty minutes, but at no time does the music flag. Instead, there's a compelling quality to the music that commands the attention. The compositional frameworks vary in style, from heads bookending through-composed passages punctuated by solos, to more open-ended explorations. Sirkis is perhaps more restrained than in other contexts he appears in, (the duo with Eyal Maoz
or the quartet with Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi
) but his deftness of touch, his range of textures and accents, merit close listening on their own. Frank Harrison
alternates between flowing piano lines and atmospheric electric keyboards, while electric bassist Kevin Glasgow
, who replaces Patrick Bettison
from the group's debut outing, brings lyricism and a surprising lightness of touch.
Whether navigating rapid-fire unison lines or soaring solo, as on the charging opener "If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly in Spirals)," or carrying the haunting, chamber-esque ballad "Oblivion," Polish vocalist Bialas is an integral part of the exchanges. Her vibratoless voice exudes lyricism, her Polish-sung lyrics are poetry given wings. Thankfully, the CD booklet contains English translations, which reveal a chiaroscuro world of shadows and light, of lilac-scented dreams and of dandelion seeds dancing on the wind, of mists and fragrant grasses, of unicorns and the muffled sound of fluttering night wings, of soul searching and of the march of time.
There's a slightly melancholy undercurrent to Bialas' more ethereal flights, though the gloom recedes the higher she soars. This duality is to the fore on "Letter to A.," where the singer entwines with Harrison's sombre, Olivier Messiaen-influenced organ waves before scaling joyous heights as the music swells. There's a slight Spanish tinge to "Reminiscence," a fiery, straight-ahead romp fuelled by Sirkis, where Bialas' wordless vocals fly over Harrison's dashing piano improvisation. The first CD closes with an aching, bluesy ballad, "Chiaroscuro," with singer and pianist both quietly beguiling.
The centrepiece of the second CD is "The Earth Suite," a two-part, twenty-minute suite that begins with the pastoral sound of cow bells against tanpura drone. Circling piano mantra and wordless song frame solos of contrasting character from Glasgow and Harrsionthe former as delicate as a finely picked acoustic guitar, the latter expansive and animated. Overtone singing and tanpura drone bleed seamlessly into the suite's second part, a konokol segment led by Sirkis, with the additional chime of finger cymbals. When Bialas joins, the vocal percussion expands harmonically and rhythmically to spectacular effect. Galloping frame drum ignites the exhilarating final stretch.
Dark-hued organ, which acts as sonic breather and bridge, underpins the suite's next episode. From Gothic hymn the quartet veers unexpectedly into sci-fi abstraction. Here, waterphone provides the eerie backdrop to Bialas' witchy vocals and Sirkis' restless percussion, the singer evoking Gilli Smyth's "space whisper" from Flying Teapot
One of the great contemporary drummers, Sirkis is also a nuanced composer, as albums such as Shepherd Stories
(Stonebird Productions, 2013) and The Monk
(SAM productions, 2008) amply demonstrate. The dynamic "Message from a Blue Bird" allows Bialas and Harrison to shine, but much of the song's appeal lies in the web of interconnecting rhythms. Waterphone and percussion spin a dance macabre on "Spooky Action at a Distance." The reverie is soon dispelled by bass and cymbals, which usher in a sinewy electro-acoustic jazz passage, crowned by Bialas' layered vocal harmonies.
Bialas' gently coursing "Nocturnity" brings lyrical solos from Glasgow and Harrison, while Sirkis' ensemble piece "Pictures from a Polish Wood" closes the second CD on a more upbeat note. Over Harrison's dreamy vamp the drummer takes a bow with a punchy solo, adding blistering konokol to the finale. As the music fades, bird song and a bear-like growl restore the primacy of nature.
From the arresting artwork of the CD jacketand the beautifully painted images on the CDs themselvesto Bill Bruford
's insightful liner notes, the packaging and presentation of Our New Earth
is as artfully rendered as the music itself. This attention to detail further underlines Our New Earth
's status, lovingly declared by Sirkis, Bialas, Harrison and Glasgow, as a work of art.
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.
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.