After exploring an organ/guitar/drums encounter of the most unusual kind with The Inner Noise on albums including We Are Falling
(Konnex, 2005) and The Song Within
(SAM, 2007), Israeli-born, British-resident drummer Asaf Sirkis turns, on the surface, to a more conventional line-up with The Monk
. Still, Sirkis' writing, and a trio that eschews orthodoxy, keeps The Monk
in line with the distinctive voice of Inner Noise.
"Stoned Bird" opens the disc with harmonic ambiguity, driven by Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos' arpeggiated chords and Sirkis' muscular, tumultuous playing. But it's Israeli bassist Yaron Stavi who sets up the spare melody, leading into a guitar solo that's referential in tone and approach to guitar icon Alan Holdsworth, but with far greater economy. Gary Husbanda clear reference point for Sirkismakes the first of four guest appearances on keyboards. With a reputation built largely around his drumming, in recent years Husband has placed greater emphasis on keyboards, whether it's exploring the solo piano possibilities of Holdsworth (with whom he still occasionally works) on The Things I See
(Angel Air, 2004), layered, multi-track compositions on The Complete Diary of a Plastic Box
(Angel Air, 2008) or touring with another guitar legend, John McLaughlin, and his fusion- centric 4th Dimension
group. Here, his synth solo demonstrates the same kind of attention to tone as the late Joe Zawinul and an oblique melodicism all his own.
Husband's keyboards are also a defining texture on the title track, with Sirkis again fighting convention as Stavi plays the melodic lead over Spiliotopoulos' gentle voicings. Arpeggiated changes follow, but with an even darker mood than The Monk
's opener. The vibe says fusion, but the attention to space and color says something else, as Husband's synth solo combines a blinding speed with visceral tension and release. Spiliotopoulos opts for a clean but slightly tart tone, winding his way through Sirkis' changes with ease.
Sirkis may be a powerhouse drummer but, as with Inner Noise, the writing is equally important. "The Bridge," is a solo piano miniature written by Husband, which segues into Sirkis' compelling rubato tone poem, "Without a Story," where Spiliotopoulos' abstruse theme sets up a drum solo which unfolds with nuanced inevitability, leading to a more jagged three-way improv between Sirkis, Spiliotopoulos and Stavi.
From this open-ended middle point The Monk
returns to more definitive form, ranging from the rhythm-dense "Alone," with guest percussionist Adriano Adewale, to the pensive "End of the Circle," insistent 5/4 "Dream" and abstractly impressionistic "The Journey Home." Sirkis and his trio possess great power and unbridled energy but unleash it rarely, making it all the more effective when they do. The Monk
signals a directional shift for Sirkis while continuing to build on his strengths as player, composer and conceptualist. Inherently lighter in texture than the keyboard-driven Inner Noise, it adds greater freedom to the mix, straddling the fusion fence with an appealingly uncharacteristic avoidance of unnecessary chops and purposeless displays of technique.