Reviews of Asaf Sirkis
29/04/2015 BUD KOPMAN, All About Jazz (USA)
Drummer/composer Asaf Sirkis, whose last album from 2013 was the highly acclaimed Shepherd's Stories is back with new group, co-led by the extraordinary Polish vocalist, composer and poet Sylwia Bialas.
The album consists of ten journeys, they are much more than tracks, which contain many moments of intense yearning, sorrow, happiness and love.
The compositional credits are shared equally by Sirkis and Bialas, with Bialas also contributing five poems in Polish, and while this music is a band effort, (Frank Harrison on piano and keyboards has many moments to shine as does Patrick Bettison on bass and chromatic harmonica) it is the dual leaders who naturally stand out.
Sirkis' drumming is very subtle and razor sharp throughout, even when the energy rises, as in "Vortex," but it is Bialas' singing and vocalizations which (naturally) captures the most interest.
Her voice is an astounding instrument, crystal clear throughout its wide range, with a very sparing use of a tight, controlled vibrato. She can whisper as easily as soar, and Polish never sounded so enchanting.
The music is highly emotional, with long-limbed melodies that unfold slowly, encircling the sound stage. Time stops for the duration as the music uncovers multiple layers of meaning starting with "Come To Me" and ending with "Orgon."
The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet has a sound all its own, despite having influences from all over the world. This sound is one of beauty, love and hope (from "Come To Me"):
In the abyss of pastels
Of blues and whites
A planet is born
Of blossoming hope
Track Listing: Come To Me; Dreams Dreams; Vortex; Ismael; A Hymn; Mandragora; The One; Magnolia; Orbs; Orgon.
Personnel: Asaf Sirkis: drums; Sylwia Bialas: vocals; Frank Harrison: piano, keyboards; Patrick Bettison: bass guitar, chromatic harmonica.
Record Label: Stonedbird Productions
06/04/2015 Mark Sullivan (USA) All about Jazz
The The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet demonstrates how well a vocalist can work as the featured soloist in a quartet. Even better, they make you forget the instrumentation in the beauty and joy of the music they make. The group truly deserves the "International" part of their name. Drummer Asaf Sirkis is an Israeli living in England; vocalist Sylwia Bialas is a Pole living in Germany; keyboardist Frank Harrison is English; and bassist Patrick Bettison is from the United States.
The music they make collectively could come from anywhere and everywhere. Co-leaders Sirkis and Bialas composed all of the music (each is responsible for 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 vocalise. But the lyrics do seem to have an effect on the melodies, and Bialas' delivery. The liner notes include English translations.
"Vortex" is the first of the up-tempo Latin tunes, a sound which evokes the first version of Chick Corea's Return to Forever—this is where Bialas' performance recalls Flora Purim. That sound recurs again on "Magnolia." But they're attractive tracks, which do not sound at all derivative. Bettison's chromatic harmonica playing is far from a gimmick, adding an interesting texture to the group sound. He plays the instrument on four of the ten tracks, but is especially featured on the opening of "Mandragora," which begins with a piano/harmonica duet.
Bialas commands a wide range of vocal styles, from the overtone singing on the title track (which is used for texture, rather than the main voice); to the atmospheric, ECM-like sound on many tracks (think Norma Winstone); to the more horn-like sound on the up-tempo tracks (reminiscent of Flora Purim). On "Orgon" she even pulls out some spacey extended vocal effects.
Sirkis is known for his work with the Lighthouse trio, Tim Garland, Larry Coryell, John Abercrombie, and his own trio. His playing here is consistently energetic and creative. Despite being co-leader, his solo time is minimal. He makes his contribution as composer as much as drummer. That approach describes the whole project: group rather than individual, with the overall sound as the star.
Track Listing: Come To Me; Dreams Dreams; Vortex; Ismael; A Hymn; Mandragora; The One; Magnolia; Orbs; Orgon
Personnel: Asaf Sirkis: drums; Sylwia Bialas: vocals, overtone singing; Frank Harrison: piano, keyboards; Patrick Bettison: bass guitar, chromatic harmonica.
Record Label: Stonedbird Production
Published since 2013
Musician/composer (librarian by profession) with a special interest in bebop-based jazz and experimental music.
31/03/2015 ROGER FARBEY (All About Jazz)
Album `Come To Me` by The Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet
Five of the tracks are necessarily defined by the Polish lyrics written and sung by Bialas and to the unwary, the opener, “Come To Me” might initially discombobulate, hearing Slavonic words enunciated in a jazz idiom. But it rapidly becomes clear that this configuration really works well. It’s apparent here and on the next track “Dreams Dreams,” where Bialas’ influences lie. A self-confessed ECM Records fan, she composes, frequently in combination with Sirkis, elegant, beautifully-crafted songs.
“Vortex” picks up the pace and sees Bialas singing in the international language of scat, the lyric-less vocals seeming to free-up the mood, enhanced by lively piano and drum solos. The Polish lyrics of “Ismael” are rendered with delicateness and succeeded by a wistful harmonica solo (a comparative rarity in jazz) from Bettison.
The brisk “A Hymn” affords Sirkis the chance to demonstrate his ability to furnish a piece of music with predominant drumming that is both vibrant yet non-intrusive, allowing Bialas’ voice to be heard in perfect equilibrium. “Mandragora,” an exciting more complex piece, opens with harmonica, enjoined by Bialas’ wordless vocals, bass and piano solos and all the while Sirkis’ deft drumming keeps tempo in often changing time signatures. The ballad “The One” like all the Polish lyrics here, benefits from English translation provided in the digipak CD’s insert. This is helpful since the words frequently match the lyricism of the music: “One world, one goal, one thought and vision.”
On the brisker-paced “Magnolia,” harmonica follows a vocal opening and Sirkis produces some engaging cross-beat rhythms whilst the song gradually builds-up to a climax. The slow “Orbs” engagingly employs ruminative piano and stretched-out harmonica notes, punctuated by periods of near-silence. The medium-paced “Orgon,” concludes this set here, sounding nearer to Return to Forever’s debut ECM recording, with electric piano to the fore.
This is more than merely a fine vocal jazz album, since like other singers such as Norma Winstone (another influence), Bialas uses her voice as an instrument and not just as a means of expressing lyrics, whilst her colleagues provide sumptuously arranged and executed music.
Track Listing: Come To Me; Dreams Dreams; Vortex; Ismael; A Hymn; Mandragora; The One; Magnolia; Orbs; Orgon
Personnel: Asak Sirkis: drums; Sywia Bialas: vocals; Frank Harrison: piano, keyboards; Patrick Bettison: bass guitar, chromatic harmonica.
Record Label: Stonedbird Productions
21/11/2014 By John Pritchard
Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet,
COME TO ME
by Asaf Sirkis, Sylwia Bialas (*****)
Asaf's newest album - 'Come To Me' - is an inspiring musical partnership with Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas that includes Frank Harrison on piano/keyboards and Patrick Bettison on bass and harmonica. The album was launched at the London Jazz Festival on November 21, 2014. The quartet has been touring the UK and will continue performing throughout 2015.
"COME TO ME" IS A MASTERPIECE!
Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet
Launch Date: November 21, 2014
Five Stars***** - Reviewed by John Pritchard
COME TO ME
Under the wing of darkness
The rise of unity
Breaths and thoughts
In shy proximity.
Knot of bodies
Heat of the lips
The sweetest frenzy,
Dialogue of souls
Seized two beings
So thirsty for love.
In the abyss of pastels
Of blues and whites
A planet is born
Of blossoming hope.
These opening lyrics to the title track, Come To Me, epitomize the love and hauntingly optimistic sound of this phenomenally talented quartet. The sheer beauty and grace of this uplifting collection of original music truly reflects the ever expanding musical genius of composer/drummer Asaf Sirkis, et all.
Polish singer Sylwia Bialas composed five of the 10 pieces on this project and is a true musical partner with Asaf. And when it comes to her singing, she is not just another great jazz vocalist improvising her way through a cool sounding acoustic album. Her voice shimmers, sparkles and whispers like a misty morning sun shining through to warm our heart and soul. I found myself soaring on each and every note and was deeply moved by her soulfulness. Sylwia's creativity also extends beyond the music and lyrics to the photos and images you can find on the cover and in the album's interior booklet.
Not unlike Asaf's previous albums, Come To Me, is a true tour-de-force of musicianship and innovation. The piano and keyboard improvisations of Frank Harrison are super elegant and in perfect balance with the atmospheric nature of each composition. His exquisite solo in the middle of track four, Ismael, is particularly gorgeous as is his masterful playing on track five, A Hymn, and track seven, The One.
Perhaps the most unexpected surprise of the album is the masterful harmonica playing by bassist Patrick Bettison. The harmonica is such a rarity in jazz music and here it really shines through on track 8, Magnolia. The harmonica gives the album an ethereal quality that is most unexpected. In respect to Patrick's basswork, it is refreshingly fluid and flawless. Check out his solo on track two, Dreams Dreams, track six, Mandragora, and track ten, Orgon.
For the drummers who deeply admire Asaf's masterful and uniquely tasteful approach to the drumset, you won't be disappointed with his rhythmically inventive and inspiring playing throughout... especially his super melodic solo on the third track, Vortex, and his incredibly soft, beautiful brushwork on track nine, Orbs.
"Come To Me" is yet another Asaf Sirkis masterpiece. It not only delivers an extraordinary listening experience, but I feel genuinely enriched and deeply satisfied after hearing the music, especially with Sylwia's voice. This is what music is all about: colorful, infinitely creative, and full of heartfelt, emotional intensity. Each musician is such a talent unto themselves that when playing together you cannot help but feel completely transported to a better place while you listen.
One last note of appreciation goes out to Andrew Tulloch who mixed and mastered the tracks to produce the high quality clean and pristine sound of the entire album. Hearing this music on a great sound system is mandatory. You will appreciate every second of this luscious and inspirational release by Asaf Sirkis and Sylwia Bialas all the more.
"Come To Me" is truly magnificent! …a musical experience without peer! Bravo Asaf and Sylwia!
Five stars! - John Pritchard
10/07/2013 Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews website
ISRAELI-BORN DRUMMER and percussionist Asaf Sirkis has firmly established himself as a highly individual and treasured mainstay of the buzzing British and international jazz scene. For many years the rhythmic backbone of Gilad Atzmon’s amazing Orient House Ensemble, also to be found within John Law’s and Alex Hutton’s piano trios with bassist Yuri Goloubev, and alongside Gwilym Simcock in Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Trio (to name but a few!), his precise, sensitive and versatile approach to jazz is both refreshing and unfailingly compelling.
For his own current trio project, his compositions and performances are fascinatingly redolent of the jazz-rock/’Canterbury’ period of the mid to late ’70s and early ’80s (I’m thinking maybe ‘National Health’, ‘Colosseum II’, ‘Bruford’… even ‘Camel’) – but the music is very much of the present, Sirkis’s many influences crystallising into this distinctive sound. Teaming up again with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and bassist and fellow ‘Orient Householder’ Yaron Stavi (following on from their 2010 album, ‘Letting Go’), they present this new collection, ‘Shepherd’s Stories’. Sirkis explains the album title as the ‘déja vu’ effect we can experience when hearing a melody; familiar yet unable to place, but reminding us of times past and “where we have come from” – perhaps another suggestion of the richness and vision of Sirkis’s creativity.
As before, the extended tracks feature Spiliotopoulos who creates a clear, sustained lead guitar tone and technique often reminiscent of the great Allan Holdsworth. Considerable melodic interventions are also made by the accomplished Stavi on bass, leaving the guitar free to then create complex and varied backdrops of electric or acoustic chordal textures and washes.
Sirkis, himself, displays all of his customary panache throughout – yes, the leader and writer, but never dominating proceedings. He is one of those musicians who, in concert, completely captivates with his confidence, meticulousness and (very clearly) the enjoyment of all he is sharing with colleagues and audience alike. Here, ‘Meditation’ exemplifies his method, with bassist and guitarist combining to create a mysterious, anticipatory opening through which Sirkis gradually joins to reveal his mastery – subtle at first, then joyously abundant (check out the title track, too, for Asaf at glorious jazz/rock full tilt!).
For this release, three guests are welcomed into the fold, each of whom colour the trio’s sound in an interesting and different way. The Fender Rhodes of John Turville introduces an exciting new dynamic, with a deft display in the opening ’1801′, and then later on in ‘Dream Sister’. In-demand flautist Gareth Lockrane also augments well the trio’s sound, presenting a beautifully restrained yet lithe improvisation in ‘Together’; and the charming, layered, wordless vocals of Sylwia Bialas on the gentle ‘Traveller’ further enhance the trio (for me, pleasingly reminiscent of the ‘new age’ vocals of Mike Oldfield’s early catalogue). These contributions certainly whet the appetite for, I hope, future collaborations.
I have been listening for a number of weeks now and have gradually become enchanted by this album’s feel-good ambience – another of those very welcome ‘slow burners’ that can be returned to again and again to reveal hidden delights. Already available at iTunes, ‘Shepherd’s Stories’ is launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, on 17 July, 2013, followed by a number of UK dates.
08/04/2013 Rich Rainlore, Rainlore's world website. Special feature
Rainlore on premier drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis, his music, and his Asaf Sirkis Trio's latest album, Shepherd's Stories.
My first encounter with Asaf Sirkis happened, as it were, quite unconsciously, about 1993, in the form of an album by Israeli luminary and 'father' of Israeli free jazz (some would say, free improvisation) Harold Rubin, Trialog, which featured a young Asaf Sirkis on drums and Kobi Shefi on bass guitar in addition to Rubin himself on clarinet.
Sirkis impressed me greatly back then, but, always having had a bad memory for names, the name Asaf Sirkis somehow soon faded from my memory. The first class drumming, as well as the album, did not though, and I was of course delighted to be reunited with it last year. It still stands out and is timeless, and I can only recommend you get hold of it.
Thus, when I met Sirkis with Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble (of which he was a founder member with Atzmon) years later in London, the name did not ring any bells for quite some time.
Meanwhile, Sirkis had already had an illustrious career both performing and recording in Israel, with such Israeli jazz, world music and other giants as the aforementioned Harold Rubin, Albert Beger, Yair Dalal, Christoph Spendel and Eyal Sela from 1990 onwards, and also forming his own first trio, consisting of Kobi Arad (now a major force in Third Stream in New York) on keyboards and Gabriel Mayer on bass, in 1995 and recording as a leader on on One Step Closer with his first Asaf Sirkis Trio in 1995, Vagabond with Sassi Mizrachi and Kobi Arad in 1997, and in a duo with Eyal Maoz, Freedom Has It’s Own Taste, the same year.
Also in the 1990s, inspired by French Church Organ composers such as Olivier Messiaen, Sirkis formed a new band, The Inner Noise, consisting of Adi Goldstein on church organ, Amir Perelman on electric guitar and Sirkis himself on drums in 1996 and performed their first project widely around Israel during 1997-8.
The 1990s then already saw Sirkis in great demand, and getting the kind of press that could be the envy of many, especially at such an early age. He was already critically acclaimed as Israel's greatest drummer and percussionist who ought not be confined to Israel alone but deserving of much wider international recognition. Naturally enough, for a drummer and percussionist of his caliber, Israel eventually proved too small and Europe or America beckoned.
1998 finally saw Sirkis leaving for first The Netherlands and then France, before finally settling in London in 1999. Sirkis very quickly established himself as a part of the UK Jazz and world music scene and soon took it by storm, a force to be reckoned with. Soon after his arrival in London, Sirkis also re-formed his trio Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise with Steve Lodder on organ and Mike Outram on guitar, eventually recording three remarkable albums with this band between 2003 and 2007.
A meeting in 1999 with saxophonist and clarinet player Gilad Atzmon was a meeting of musically like minds, both with more than a passing interest in the music of the Middle East, resulting in them founding the seminal band Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble. Sirkis remind with the band until 2009, meanwhile recording seven albums with them, when it became necessary for him to leave in order to devote sufficient time especially to his own projects.
In the intervening years, Sirkis soon became probably the most in demand drummer/percussionist on the British scene as well as abroad, and he also established long term associations with, among others, Nicolas Meier, Tim Garland (becoming a founder member of the Lighthouse Trio), John Law, Larry Coryell, Jeff Berlin, Yuri Goloubev, and Simon Fisher Turner.
In 2007, Sirkis formed his second Asaf Sirkis Trio, an electric trio with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and Yaron Stavi on bass guitar. They released the albums The Monk in 2008 and Letting Go in 2010.
When I first met a still young Sirkis as part of The Orient House Ensemble, my breath was immediately taken away by his incredible drumming and percussion. Ranging from mercurial and downright explosive to sensitive, subtle, tender and gentle, and everything in between and beyond. As for his time keeping, I shouldn't be surprised if you could set an atomic clock by it! Sirkis also boasts a huge palette of colours, whether on standard traps or special rigs using various frame drums and other percussion such as more recently the West African udu clay pot drum and the hang drum (aka steel drum). He also became a master of konakol, the Carnatic or South Indian vocalisation of rhythm, which he uses as a compositional aid as well as in playing. Over the years, Sirkis has only grown in leaps and bounds, establishing himself as the premier drummer of our times and in such demand he can pick and choose his collaborations.
Equally, his compositional prowess impressed right from his first album with Asaf Sirkis And The Inner Noise, Inner Noise, and again this progressed more and more.
Just as the drummer/percussionist, the composer Asaf Sirkis is intuitive and imaginative, working from the inside out as it were, letting the unconscious guide him rather than relying on 'clever ideas.' Sirkis' art reflects his personality. He is intensely spiritual, intense yet relaxed, and there seems to be an inner calm emanating from him. Sirkis is also a gentle, kind personality, and with a great sense of humour. And all in all, one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. All this shines through in his music.
Sirkis' music is hard to classify and impossible to rigidly pigeonhole. Essentially, it broadly falls into jazz fusion, but, especially with the early Inner Noise albums, also touches on Third Stream territory. There is a fairly clear progression through the Inner Noise and then the Asaf Sirkis Trio music and albums. The first of these, Inner Noise, is perhaps the most intense, full of inner tensions, living up to its title as it were. By the time of We Are Falling, the music is a lot more meditative, in search of inner peace, falling through a cosmic void, see what happens, where it takes him. The last of the Inner Noise albums, The Song Within, progresses further along those lines, seeking the music, the song, within, and through its expression finding greater peace and beauty.
With the new Asaf Sirkis Trio, Sirkis explores the concept of the musician as monk on their first album, The Monk. A startling parallel that takes a bold next step in the evolution of Sirkis' music. Finally, with Letting Go, he has learned exactly that, and lets go, in many senses. Only letting go can give true inner peace and freedom, and leave you to progress freely beyond the mere quest for inner peace and beauty.
Thus liberated, Sirkis has moved on, the first result being his forthcoming album, Shepherd's Stories. It was a long and arduous road leading up to this, his finest album to date, a very different album from previous ones both conceptually and stylistically.
To be released in July this year, and launched that month at London's prestigious Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho, Shepherd's Stories reflects on Sirkis' long fascination with the way that melodies affect the mind and soul, and the way that 'music can connect us with our true selves.' Sirkis calls these effects 'the Shepherd Story Effect.' It occurs, for instance, when a melody reminds you of something you've heard before, or you somehow feel sure that you have heard a melody before, but cannot pinpoint where or when - a feeling of déjà vu, or when music reminds you of the way you felt at another time in your life. However, Shepherd's Stories connects with something larger than the self, with a forgotten truth or greater consciousness. These moments are a connection to our soul, important reminders or pointers of where we have come from.
As for the creation and recording of Shepherd's Stories and its evolution from the past, as Sirkis himself puts it, 'I think that there is much greater sense of deliberateness in this album when you compare to the previous albums we've made with the trio but at the same time a more effortless, natural and improvisatory approach throughout.' In other words, a result of the liberation achieved through Letting Go.
It's been a long, and fascinating, road to Shepherd's Stories for anyone who was along for the journey. A review of the album will follow shortly.
© 2013 Rainlore's World/Rainlore. All rights reserved.
22/04/2011 Jayne Sheridan
Dean Clough is now set to become the Ronnie Scott’s of the north. In an interesting acoustic experiment, it hosted a successful food and jazz fusion in its cellar-bar café space. Welcoming Israeli ex-patriot Asaf Sirkis’ trio to the regenerated art and industry complex, retail manager Linda Brill devised a menu of Moroccan chickpea soup, olives and feta, flatbread and fig, with a pistachio and plum frangipane tart to reflect Sirkis’ Middle Eastern roots. Material from the Sarkis trio’s latest collection, Letting Go, featured in the set as the music moved, from metronomic regularity and power, to fluid mellifluous passages reminiscent of film and television soundtracks. Guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos is a man of many faces, swinging from angular and spiky lead lines, occasionally showing the kind of speed runs that John McLaughlin may have pursued, but then also, producing lighter, reflective moments. Jonathan Harvey on bass slipped thoughtfully and carefully along the neck, his fingers at times hinting at fretless glissando. Sarkis is the pulse of this ensemble but he is not dominating. He coaxed his sideman with a light encouraging touch, yet here is a percussionist in command of his art. When he finally lets loose with an extended solo in the last number he reveals all the controlled energy of a great craftsman. Together the three-piece communicated with rare intuition as the music shifts from the taut and the tense to the free and flowing.
22/04/2011 Matthew Fross
The instrumental trio is Asaf Sirkis on drums, Yaron Stavi on electric bass, and Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitars, with special guest, Patrick Bettison on harmonica. The Israeli-born, UK-resident, Asaf Sirkis, leads the group with an experimental-jazz-rock-infused concoction of the best instrumental music produced in a long time. The music is reminiscent of Jonas Hellborg and the late-Shawn Lane. There are energetic parts, as well as quieter moments that let the mind wander without leaving the planet. Speaking of planets, 'Other Stars and Planets' is more of a jazz-centered composition without all the technological wizardry so common in space and ambient music. This is a jazzy composition with all the twists and turns of a good story without the words. Seven long tracks entrance the listeners with a sense of awe, calmness, and introspection. The few instruments that are used are relatively in-tune with each other and rather fluid in form without any slip-ups or missteps. Anyone with an ear for the instrumental will find Letting Go quite compelling. So, indulge in it today and let yourself go! ~ Matthew Forss
15/01/2011 interview by Jerome Marcus
Asaf Sirkis - Connecting life with music and drums
Asaf Sirkis is one of the hidden talents of electric jazz. An artist in his own right, he explores the elements of freeform jazz for the development of artistic rhythmic expression. Born in Israel, Asaf was drawn to rhythm from a young age and influenced by traditional cultural music in Israel which he fused with pop artists such as The Police, Mahavishnu Orchestra and prog rock artists as Yes and Genesis. Hailed as one of the upcoming modern day jazz artists by ‘Mojo’ and ‘All About Jazz’, I caught up with him during his tour promoting his current solo CD ‘Letting Go’ with his jazz power trio to get a better insight into his musical approach.
Born in Israel, what made you choose drums as your instrument?
The first instrument I wanted to play was actually the electric bass, but where I was living in Israel there weren’t any bass teachers at that time and in fact, there weren’t many bass players at all! The electric bass was quite a new thing for Israel in the late ''70''s. I remember going with my Mom to the local music conservatoire in my home town asking about bass guitar lessons. The headmaster didn’t really know what to answer and said that I would have to study classical guitar for 4 years at least before I can start learning the bass - quite funny when I think about it now but at the time the idea of studying classical guitar for that long really put me off the whole thing.
The next instrument I was drawn into was the drums. What I really liked about it was the physical aspect, the excitement, and the energy. I found rhythm so fascinating and magical. I remember the music teacher in my school demonstrating simple rhythms just by playing with his fingers on his briefcase. I was mesmerized!
Did you have much encouragement from your parents?
The answer is yes, from my father who bought me a drum set when I was 12 years old and sent me to study drums with a local drums teacher and later in a drum school in Tel-Aviv (‘Metronome’ – the only one in Israel at the time, directed by David Rich with whom I studied for over 6 years). My mother wasn’t so sure especially after she realized that I was getting very serious about it. She wanted me to get a ‘proper job’!!!
What was the music scene like in Israel at that time?
For someone interested in playing contemporary creative ‘jazz’ (fusion was the hot thing at the time), there wasn’t much available; a handful of clubs, two or three festivals, one record label, not much really. The options were few; either you go to the army band (in Israel army service is compulsory between the ages of 18 to 21), do functions, teach or play pop music. The term ‘touring’ was unfamiliar for jazz musicians simply because there weren’t enough gigs. When I started working professionally I used to play in a Jewish wedding band five nights a week and did the occasional jazz gig in between
Who were the drummers you aspired to and how did they shape your playing style?
Stewart Copeland was my first inspiration. I really loved his imaginative ground breaking approach. Stewart has a unique sound, feel and groove. I used to listen to him a lot in my early teens. Later I understood from his interviews that he grew up in the Lebanon listening to Arabic rhythms – that might explain his super strong rhythm approach and attraction.
I also got into Bill Bruford earlier on in his work with ‘Yes’ and his own projects. Bill had a different approach to everything, the drums setting, tuning, playing a groove, odd times, the music he wrote, etc.
Gary Husband was my first major influence; I used to transcribe everything he did with Allan Holdsworth’s band. His drumming is fascinating; I felt drawn into it from a very early age. His phrasing is so precise yet so spontaneous, quite unbelievable.
Jack Dejohnette; I love his natural and spiritual approach to the drums and to music in general. I found his spirituality very inspiring; Jack is someone who, for me, brings you back to the essence of music and its original purpose. Often when I listen to him live, I come out with a feeling of beauty and a strong spiritual uplift rather than ‘Oh I should go and practice more tomorrow’.
Tony Williams; Tony had such a talent, such a charisma, such an expression and a huge sound. There is very little I can actually say about him except the fact that he left a major impression on me and inspired me to play and lead a band of my own.
At that age, determination and confidence must have played a key factor in you making your decision to move to London - what made you set out on your journey and when did you make the decision?
Like other Israeli musicians who where trying to play creative music in Israel, I felt the need to go to somewhere else where I could find a way playing that kind of music and making a living out of it, that was the key factor for me. This was not possible in Israel.
Europe seemed like the right place as I was told from a musician-friend (Amir Perlman) who was living in Holland at the time that it is actually possible. During 1997 I made a few trips to Amsterdam where my friend was living to play on some small gigs that he’d organize and to check out the scene. It looked like musicians there where really treated with respect and where playing the music they wanted to play. I guess that during that time I was getting more and more convinced that I wanted to try this out. Finally, in September of 1998 I left to go to Rotterdam, Holland. I had some gigs in the book with my friend and some theatre work in Paris for a bit later to keep me going for a few months. I spent 3 months in Holland then went to Paris for two months to do a theatre show tour.
Holland was kind of nice and Paris was good too but while I was in Rotterdam I made a visit to London. London was buzzing; lots of gigs and good musicians. People were open and welcoming; I’d only been there a few days and already sat in on a few gigs and got some gig offers etc. It became quite clear that this would be my next destination. At the end of Feb 1999 I left to London with all my stuff on the train.
London was kind of tough in the beginning; I didn’t have any money or gigs but sure enough, after only a few weeks I started working! I didn’t have a car so I used to take my drums on a baby trolley down the tubes and on night buses.
How did you get on the London gigging circuit and how easy was it?
I was actually surprised by how easy it was. There where loads of small gigs around town and I met some nice people who helped me a lot like saxophone player Gilad Atzmon; Gilad was already making his mark on the UK jazz scene back then and he’d call me for gigs whenever his drummer couldn’t do the gig. Gilad had a house with a piano and I used to organize jam sessions there with different people. That’s how I got to know many of the jazz guys in London at the time. Later on I joined Gilad’s band (The Orient House Ensemble). We worked together for 10 years. He kept me very busy!
Sax player Ian Ritchie (from Roger Waters’ band) was an ex ‘rock n roll’ producer who was playing jazz. He’d get me on gigs with his partner, singer Holly Penfield. He even gave me a tuxedo suit so I could play on some of the functions they where doing!
It took me a couple of years before I was getting decent work and I was able to buy a car.
Now, let''s talk about drum sounds and your equipment. Your drum sound has its own voice and comes across as notation based and certainly your drum solos come across as melodic. How are your drums tuned and do you have any tips to pass on?
Absolutely! I use Gretsch drums (USA all maple shells): 20X16” bass drum with a small hole, snares: 14X5.5” for live and 14X6.5” for recording, 18X16” floor tom, 14X14” floor tom, 13X9” tom, 12X8” tom and a 8X8” tom. I really like the addition of the 8X8” and 18X16” - it gives a much wider spectrum of sound and enhances the melodic aspect.
I spend a lot of time tuning my Gretsch, this has always been important for me. I try to tune the heads as evenly as possible (I use die-cast hoops which helps a lot in tuning). No damping on the tom, floor toms or snare. Very little damping for the bass drum; just a couple of tea towels, that’s it. If the drum has too much sustain I just tighten the rear head.
For toms, floor toms and snare I use Remo coated Ambassador and mainly clear Diplomats for bottoms. For the bass drum I use a CS with a black dot for the front and a Ebony Ambassador head for the rear.
As a whole I tune the bottom head tighter than the top one; quite tight on the 12’’ tom, a bit loser on the 13’’ tom, very tight on the 14’’ floor tom, and very, very loose on my 18’’ floor tom.
In the past I used to tune my drums to a whole note scale but I found that any note would work as long as its in tune and as long as it sits comfortably with the shell’s character. In actual fact, its really nice when I sometimes tune the drums a bit differently (sometimes you need to due to different acoustics); then they give a very different melody, it’s always a nice surprise.
What are the qualities you look for in a drum kit, drum heads and cymbal sounds?
For a drum kit, good sound comes first, flexibility of tuning and good hardware. I’d like the drums to be as responsive as possible. It’s good if they look good too!
For drumheads I’m looking for maximum sensitivity. I’d like the heads to make the drum sound good in both very low and very high dynamics. When I play very softly its nice when you still have a good amount of detention and when I’m playing very loudly its good to have a full sound. Some drums, especially the vintage ones tend to get choked when you play loud, I used to have a Rogers kit that was a bit like that.
For the cymbals, I usually go for the darker sounding ones but also like higher pitched cymbals like bells etc. I found that they balance out the darkness with a spark of light so to speak.
In the last few years I have been fortunate to be an endorsee of Istanbul Agop cymbals. I have made several trips to Istanbul to select cymbals and to work with the people in the factory on a special ride cymbal. Its still work in progress but I’m hoping we could come up with a good ride cymbal sometime in the next few years.
Have you explored electronic percussion?
No, it never really attracted me.
Moving on to your music, it''s got a strong structured theme using the jazz element and yet freeform at the same time. How did you select the musicians and what was the concept behind the Asaf Sirkis Trio as oppose to your other project with Inner Noise?
The Inner Noise is a project that I’ve been running for about thirteen years now. Its a line up of Church Organ/Guitar and drums, quite an unusual sound I guess. With the Inner Noise, like other trios, its about bringing together sounds that I like. Church organ is one of my favorite instruments as well as the guitar and the drums of course. My dad used to listen to lots of organ music when I was growing up so I guess this is where it comes from. When I was younger I got massively into Olivier Messiaen’s organ works along with guitarists such as Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin. So, bringing all that together is the Inner Noise. Unfortunately it is very difficult to book that band since the music we play falls between genres, its quite a niche kind of thing.
With the new trio its more about the sound of the guitar and drums; the electric bass and electric guitar comes from the same family of instruments. When I formed the trio I was hearing a sound of the bass and the guitar playing as if they where one giant guitar! That’s the concept behind the new trio.
Also, when I first started playing in bands, guitar/bass/drums was the most available line up so that sound left an impression somehow. With the new trio I was very lucky to be able to play quite a lot of gigs and develop the music further. We did 35 gigs in the autumn of 2010 following the release of our new album ‘Letting Go’!
As for choosing the musicians I play with, its always important for me that they are capable of improvising as well as playing parts. I guess that my music moves somewhere between improvisation and classically written charts. I like to be very specific about my writing with the view of opening avenues for improvisation to a greater degree.
Another important thing is that the musicians are able to think outside the box. I’m not really interested in being bonded to a genre of music whether it’s jazz, rock, free jazz or whatever. These are only words for me. I like to keep music as genuine, honest and as fresh as possible. I have been fortunate to find great musicians that have those qualities both in the trio and with Inner Noise.
How aware should a drummer be of melody and what is the best way of developing this as opposed to playing time?
Good question! It largely depend on the type of music you play but on the whole I believe that if one is interested in communicating something in music other than just the technicality of it you’ll need to know the music you’re playing on. When I say ‘knowing’ I mean learning the melody and the other instrument’s parts by heart. Only then music can start to develop. If you’re reading music or just playing a groove that ‘works’ without knowing the piece of music, it will stay in a crude from.
I spent so many car journeys learning by heart melodies, chord changes, forms, bass lines, orchestral pieces, etc.
When you know a piece by heart your hands go to the right place; you’re much more likely to hit the right drum in the right time, and that’s without worrying about the next part or the next note.
So, my advice is utterly simple: If you want to play melodically there is no need to learn to play a melody between the snare and the bass drum while holding a 11/4 ostinato in one hand and keeping a 5/8 clave in another hand. Simply learn to sing the melody, the bass part and be aware of the form and chord changes if there are any. Your hand will follow in the most musical way possible and your facility will make its best use.
What are your future plans?
Carry on with the trio and getting more and more work for it, taking a time-out to write some new music for a new album.
I’m also very interested and getting into Carnatic music a lot these days. This is actually something I’ve been researching for a long time and I’m learning Konnakol (the South Indian vocal percussion) at the moment. I feel it helps me in further understanding of rhythm.
In the future I would like to do some kind of collaboration with musicians from India. But it’s very early to say when.
Finally, what is the best lesson you''ve learnt from music and being in the business?
Life is in constant flux and in multi directional movement - there are so many things you can do, so many things that will distract you. Therefore always stick to the thing you want to do the most as much as possible and never ever stop doing it. Always listen to your inner voice, it’ll guide you wherever you go in any situation that life presents to you.
01/10/2010 John Prichard, Jazz-Rock.com website
2010 Release: "LETTING GO"
Asaf Sirkis Trio
Release Date: September 23, 2010
Five Stars***** - Reviewed by John Pritchard
The adventurous spirit of composer/drummer Asaf Sirkis truly flows throughout this amazing album of phenomenal music. After playing together for the past three years, this mighty trio of musicians are definitely reaching new heights of inspiration and genius. Every single track contains dynamic and harmonic subtleties that evoke a refined sensibility of purity and soulfulness. I simply love this music.
In addition to the masterful drumming by Asaf, the extremely tasty performances put forward by guitarist Tasso Spiliotopoulos and bassist Yaron Stavi exceed all expectations. Each player complements the other beautifully and the rich addition of Patrick Bettison on Harmonica produces even greater soul on tracks 3 and 6.
"Letting Go" is a perfect title for this masterpiece. Each musician "lets go" of their ego and lets their heart do the playing. Letting go is also the method behind the improvisational creativity and freedom achieved by the entire band. This is authentic music at its very best.
"Letting Go" presents an extraordinary experience that is not only exciting and graceful, but also powerful and elegant. It is an album that is full of tremendous energy and very, very alive! In my humble musical opinion, "Letting Go" is without question the best album of the year. Five stars! - John Pritchard
01/10/2010 Chris Parker, Vortex Jazz Club website
Asaf Sirkis Trio
Asaf Sirkis – as anyone who's heard his intense, subtle, musical drumming, either with Gilad Atzmon or fronting his own trios, will already know – is a class act, and this album, which features his working band (Tassos Spiliotopoulos on electric and acoustic guitars, Yaron Stavi on electric bass), is a treat from start to finish.
Sirkis's music (he composed all seven tracks) manages to combine rapt, almost mesmeric contemplativeness with compulsive punch and drive, and over his dynamically varied drumming (which moves as required between brisk discursive 'jazz' style and tumblingly emphatic 'rock' – though his natural versatility almost renders these somewhat arbitrary categories redundant) Spiliotopoulos rings the changes between squeezed, Frisell-like textures and more straightforward, spiky fluency, while Stavi underpins the whole with his melodious but rock-solid bass.
With Patrick Bettison, guesting on harmonica, bringing another colour to the band's palette, this is a typically powerful and absorbing set from a tight, mutually responsive band.
29/09/2010 Ian Patterson
Asaf Sirkis | Stonebird Productions (2010)
By IAN PATTERSON
The quiet evolution of drummer Asaf Sirkis as a composer has been fascinating to behold and almost as beguiling as his playing. The confluence of influences that give shape to his rhythms—Middle Eastern, Indian and jazz—combined with a love of Sun Ra's music and an interest in astronomy, results in music which is difficult to pin down, yet which is undeniably hypnotic, in a slightly dark and brooding manner. Where Letting Go differs fromThe Monk (SAM, 2008) is in the slightly sunnier visage the music presents.
The opener, "Chennai Dream,"—with Yaron Stavi's tuneful bass at the fore—is a million light years from the dark undertones of Sirkis' Inner Noise project or The Monk. Imagine Bill Frisell going to India and you may begin to get an idea of the lovely, country-like twang that guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos brings to this breezy tune. Indeed, there's a passing resemblance to drummer Ginger Baker's '90s trio—which recorded two albums with Frisell and bassist Charlie Haden. Sirkis' drumming on this track is particularly captivating, and his punchy rolls, spitting cymbals, unpredictable flourishes and subtle accents hold the ear prisoner for the forty-five thrilling seconds his solo lasts.
The title track shifts from dreamy, ECM-like reverie to an accelerated rock- inspired passage, where Spiliotopoulos takes a charging, sinewy solo over Sirkis' driving drums and pulsing bass. The Greek-born guitarist dominates this track and "Full Moon," where his solo develops gradually and potently, bookended by a delightfully simple motif based around guitar chords left hanging in the air. One of the features of Sirkis' writing is his selflessness, and bassist Stavi is also given plenty of space to let go, especially on the lyrical "Waltz for Rehovot"—a nostalgic homage to Sirkis' birthplace in Israel—where he improvises seductively around the pretty melody for nearly the composition's entire five-and-a-half minutes.
There's a ruminative, dream-like feel to the tone poems "Lady of the Lake," "Other Stars and Planets" and "IMA"—something which seems to be part of Sirkis' musical DNA. On the latter two, harmonicist Patrick Bettison injects verve and bluesy melancholy, his extended interventions bringing an added dimension to the music in much the way Gary Husband's piano and Adriano Adewale's percussion added significant colors to The Monk. Bettison and Sirkis are well-known to each other through their work in guitarist Nicolas Meier's group, and there's an obvious chemistry at work, also given that Sirkis' trio has been together now for four years.
Perhaps leaving Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble has had a liberating effect on the London-based Israeli drummer. Whatever the case, Sirkis continues to grow as a composer and leader, balancing subtly alluring introspection with dramatic release. This record will add to his reputation as an original and captivating voice.
14/09/2010 Peter Bacon
(Stonebird Productions SBPT002)
The Israeli-born, London-resident drummer is a hugely adaptable and wide-ranging player, working with everyone from Gilad Atzmon to Tim Garland.
This trio feels like his true home, though, giving him the scope to really groove in a way he knows better than most. With him are Yaron Stavi on electric bass and Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitars, and special guest on a couple of tracks is harmonica player Patrick Bettison.
The area of activity is jazz-rock with perhaps more emphasis on the rock, or at least a prog form of it. Like the prog rockers the band like to make a big and spacious sound, and aren’t averse to a bit of bombast. Unlike the prog rockers they manage to do it all with a certain amount of good taste.
Take the title track, for example. Spiliotopoulis uses a warm and round “Gibson” sound while Sirkis rumbles on the toms for a slow and stately introduction. Then it kicks into a medium tempo road song, with bass and drums keeping a pushing pace while the guitar gets edgier and more lyrical as the pieces progresses. It builds till Stavi is pumping hard, Sirkis is in Billy Cobham territory and Spiliotopoulos blends lightning McLaughlin runs with a more echoey country sound.
Other Stars And Planets takes that spacious sound even further, with some expert telepathic time shifts that all the players follow tightly. Spiliotopoulos does nice things with sustain and volume manipulation. Both Chennai Dream and Lady Of The Lake show Stavi as counter-melodist, playing high and clear on this electric bass.
Sirkis is just a joy throughout, whether surging at speed or adding delicate cymbal accents amid the brush strokes. Like all the best drummers and especially those who lead bands, he manages to enhance the playing of his band members while always determining the overall sound and character of the music through his distinctive rhythmic feel and strong musical character.
The rock fans really should get to hear this album – it delivers all the sounds and excitement they like but with a lot more jazz savvy and sophistication. And the jazz fans should hear it as a prime example of music that can be intelligent and enjoyable at the same time.
The official release date is 23 September, but Letting Go is already available via Asaf’s website. You can also listen to some clips there. Just go to: www.asafsirkis.co.uk
09/09/2010 interview by Sebastian Scotney
Jazz CDs Featured Artist: Asaf Sirkis
The title of Asaf Sirkis' latest CD, the sixth album in his own name, is "Letting Go," (Stonedbird). Which, Sirkis says, means "forgetting who you think you are, and being what you really are."
Look for clues to what Asaf Sirkis really is in the tracks of this very personal CD, and there are quite a few. The last track, for example, "Waltz for Rehovot," gives an insight into the town where he grew up.
Rehovot is a city in Israel of 115,000 people, some 20km to the South of Tel Aviv. It is a place which proudly displays its associations with Western culture, science and commerce in the three unlikely emblems on its municipal crest: a microscope, a book...and an orange. Israel's "City of Science and Culture" also happens to be its citrus capital.
But there is another, equally long-standing heritage in this city. Some of the earliest settlers in Rehovot in the 1890's were from Yemen. Asaf Sirkis grew up in the part of the town inhabited by the town's substantial Yemenite community, surrounded by the sounds of Middle Eastern drumming.
"Waltz for Rehovot" is a quiet tune which dwells on precisely this East/West duality. As a waltz, it draws its inspiration from West. But it is also constantly infused with the middle eastern rhythms among which form an integral part of Sirkis' musical language.
The track starts with delicate work on the snare drum, with brushes. Then the tune is restated. And then comes some of the quietest drumming you will ever hear, still on brushes. Sirkis has not just an alertness to different timbres but a very wide dynamic range, and here he is testing the very boundaries of silence. He then takes the tune out, with a completely different sound, a prouder, more extrovert voice. I asked Sirkis about this: this time it's a western instrument, straight from the classical orchestra: "They're timpani mallets," he tells me.
One of Asaf Sirkis' early drum idols, and a key influence was Stewart Copeland, who grew up in Cairo and Beirut, and who shares this dual heritage. " A lot of people think his rhythms come from reggae and ska. But what his druming really is, is a rocky assimilaton of strong, powerful Arabic rhythms. I like his energy."
Like Copeland, Sirkis considers the drum kit the place at which he feels most at home. Yes, Sirkis is happy to play a wide range of percussion in other contexts, such as Tim Garland's band. "If Tim Garland were to ask me, I'd play anything. Cardboard coffee cup, no problem. But in my own band it's strictly drums. I've always felt I'm a drummer. It's my 110% vocation.."
The Asaf Sirkis Trio on the CD consists of electric guitar, electric bass and drums. This is a format which Asaf Sirkis has been thinking about, and working in, for most of his musical life. Allan Holdsworth has been a major influence, as has Larry Coryell, with whom Sirkis has toured extensively. "This is a sound I can hear," he says.
The other members of the trio are guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, originally from Athens, and Israeli bassist Yaron Stavi. This band has been together for four years, ever since Spiliotopoulos first depped for Mike Outram in another unit which Sirkis leads, Inner Noise, the trio with church organist Steve Lodder. Sirkis has known Yaron Stavi via Gilad Atzmon's bands ever since he came to London in April 1999. Sirkis is happy to be looking forward to around thirty-five gigs with this unit, promoting the album, wich will give the opportunity to take their collective sound further.
There are other strong personal associations in this CD, which come through in the song titles. "Other Stars and Planets" and "Full Moon," lead the listener in the direction of Sirkis' interest in astrology. Drumming has so much to do with balance and weight and counterweight, it somehow comes as no surprise to hear Sirkis talk of his interest in Vedic astrology, according to which there are times of day when people do better to work in conjunction with, rather than against the natural pattern of events.
Sirkis is also pursuing, intently and seriously, an interest on Indian music. "I have been listening for years to South Indian Temple music, a complete genre in Karnatic music. Temple music is sonically much rawer than the better known Indian music wih sitar, tabla and voice. It's beautiful. In last couple of years I've started to get into the amazing rhythmic system . It's an old system. It's challenging. It really works your brain out .It's real hard core maths."
The opening track "Chennai Dream," is where Sirkis explores this."Have you been to Chennai?" I ask. "No. That's why it's a dream." But rather than looking to East or to West, Sirkis keeps looking forward.
In fact, he spells out his objectives as a musician thus: "Developing language and technique is a means of communicating better what you want to say, of getting in to the core of what you want to say, and to say it simply..."
After making this serious point, I notice that he suddenly breaks into one of those powerfully infectious laughs for which he is known in the profession. Sirkis, who is capable of playing unbelievably fast and volcanically loud, relishes the irony:
"And quietly. And slowly."
LETTING GO is available from http://www.jazzcds.co.uk/
01/09/2010 interview by Selwyn Harris
Asaf Sirkis Trio
For those only familiar with Asaf Sirkis in his pivotal role as drummer for agit-prop multi-reedsman Gilad Atzmon's Orient House ensemble or for that matter his contribution to bands such as Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio, Nicolas Meier Group or John Law Trio, the music here should come as quite a surprise. But Sirkis' electric trio, formed three years ago, represents the half of the Israeli expat drummer that grew up discovering Anglo-American rock and its viruoso jazz cousin among everything else. Letting Go goes back to Instrumental jazz-rock before it ironed out the creases and became an f-word. Yet in very few placed is it reminiscent of the phallic riffs and not frenzies of a Lifetime or Mahavishnu Orchestra. Rather, this is a gentler, dreamier take on the sub-genre by a band that wears its undoubted virtuoso skills lightly. The young London-based Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos takes his cues from the more ambient side of Allan Holdsworth and early Pat Metheny. His ringing chorus-effected single note combinations hang expectantly in the air, and suggest a more direct rock music influence, a gothy sound that could have come from a number of eighties post-new wave-era rock bands. Sirkis' original themes similarly have dark, dreamy melodies and develop in a way they didn't on the Monk his previous album from 2008, generating more opportunities for band interaction than previously. Alongside bassist Yaron Stavi, another Israeli expert who's the other half of Gilad Atzmon's rhythm section, Sirkis' magnificent presence is always tempered by an acute sensitivity to group principles.
Jazzwise talks to Asaf Sirkis about the album
Judging by the photo on the front sleeve you don’t look like a band anyone would want to mess with.
We’re definitely into getting this show on the road, no messing about! Thirty-five gigs this autumn and plenty more for next year so watch out. This album is very much more about the trio than the previous one. I want to emphasise that too.
Are you as Influenced by rock music as you are by jazz, and what were the most influential sounds you grew up listening to?
There is a lot more than just rock or jazz for me. At home I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Police. My dad was heavily into Bach organ works so that went into the mix too. The place I grew up in was small town near Tel Aviv that had a big Jewish-Yemenite community, and I was exposed to their unique musical style and beautiful rhythms in my early teens. Outside, I was exposed to lots of Russian-style Israeli folk, klezmer and Balkan music too. I was always drawn to music that had some kind of spiritual or religious element in it, music that spoke to the soul whether it be John Coltrane, Oliver Messiaen, Carnatic Thavil-Nadaswaram temple music, or Sufi music.
You could say that this is a recording informed by the electric jazz-rock era, but your music isn’t particularly rockist or jam-packed with monster riffs, is it?
We do like to thrash a bit of rock ‘n’ roll here and there, yes. But for me it’s also important to have a nice melody and moments of emptiness and serenity in music. That way you get to express a full emotional spectrum and there’s a full all rounded experience for the listener too.
Listening to just this trio and Gilad’s Orient Ensemble, you wouldn’t imagine you two had a lot in common.
I know. My music seems to be slightly different than other projects I’ve done as a sideman. I don’t like to limit myself to a particular style of music or a way of playing. I like to work with talented musicians who have or are interested in creating a voice and style of their own. So each project is bound to sound different whether its Gilad, Tim Garland, Larry Coryell, Nicolas Meier, John Law, Yuri Goloubev and so on.
01/09/2010 Jazz UK
Praised by both critics and listeners for his musical inventiveness, drummer and composer. Asaf Sirkis seems to thrive on a packed diary. His circle of associates includes Gilad Atzmon, Tim Garland and Nicolas Meier, but he's about to tour intensively (and extensively) with his own trio, featuring guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and bassist Yaron Stavi both playing electric instruments. The tour is preceded by and interspersed with an electric series of dates with other artists.
AS: My own bands are always trios; I've always been drawn to that format. Music for me is about teamwork and communication and there's something about trios that really delivers this and everybody can really express themselves. I write for the sounds of particular players and particular instruments and the guitar is one of my favourites. I listened tol a lot of guitarists when I first started listening to jazz - Holdsworth, McLaughlin, Metheny,Coryell - and that sound is in my mind all the time as something I grew up with. I wanted to create a sound where electric guitar and electric bass sound like a single instrument and all the music I wrote for this album and then previous one came from this approach. Performing and recording are totally different processes requiring different kinds of energy; in the studio you're under a microscope and the communicative aspects are very different. The new album is called 'Letting Go' and it's on my own label, Stonebird Productions, and another reason for doing a lot of gigs is that we sell a lot of albums on the gigs themselves. It's out on 23 September, when I hope the full moon will bring us good luck!
We've got something like 35 dates on the autumn part of the tour and another twenty or so already for next year. That said, actually playing the gigs is the easiest and most enjoyable part - the real effort is in getting them! We got some funding from Jazz Services last year and I must say it helped a lot - massively, in fact. We were trying out new materal on the road, then at the beginning of the year we recorded it, so it helped us get the music up and running.
See listings pages for tour dates or www.asafsirkis.co.uk
27/08/2010 Selwyn Harris
Asaf Sirkis Trio - Letting Go
For those only familiar with Asaf Sirkis in his pivotal role as drummer for agit-prop multi-reedsman Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House ensemble or for that matter his contribution to bands such as Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Trio, Nicolas Meier Group or John Law trio, the music here should come as quite a surprise. But Sirkis’ electric trio, formed three years ago, represents the half of the Israeli expat drummer that grew up discovering Anglo-American rock and its virtuoso jazz cousin among everything else. Letting Go goes back to instrumental jazz-rock before it ironed out the creases and became an f-word.
Yet in very few places is it reminiscent of the phallic riffs and note frenzies of a Lifetime or Mahavishnu Orchestra. Rather, this is a gentler, dreamier take on the sub-genre by a band that wears its undoubted virtuoso skills lightly. The young London-based Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos takes his cues from the more ambient side of Allan Holdsworth and early Pat Metheny. His ringing chorus-effected single note combinations hang expectantly in the air, and suggest a more direct rock music influence, a gothy sound that could have come from a number of eighties post-new wave-era rock bands.
Sirkis’ original themes similarly have dark, dreamy melodies and develop in a way they didn’t on The Monk his previous album from 2008, generating more opportunities for band interaction than previously. Alongside bassist Yaron Stavi, another Israeli expat who’s the other half of Gilad Atzmon’s rhythm section, Sirkis’ magnificent presence is always tempered by an acute sensitivity to group principles.
– Selwyn Harris
26/08/2010 David Whetstone, The Journal
Beating the biscuit tins ends with a date at Sage
Aug 26 2010
by David Whetstone, The Journal
HE has come a long way from banging biscuit tins. DAVID WHETSTONE talks to celebrated drummer Asaf Sirkis ahead of a North East gig
THE percussionist Asaf Sirkis traces his musical interest back to when he was 12 years old and really, really wanted to play ... the bass guitar.
“But I was living in Israel at the time and it’s a very small place and there wasn’t a great awareness of bass guitar. I couldn’t find a teacher or even a place to buy one.
“I had a neighbour who was a drummer who lived a couple of floors beneath where we were living. I would go to look at his drums and play a little bit.
“It was great. Then I started to play all sorts of things, like biscuit tins.”
This conjures up a wonderful image of the noisiest block of flats in Israel, with some residents living with a drummer below and a rookie biscuit tin basher above.
But Asaf puts me straight. “When I started playing the drums we were living somewhere else.”
He went to a teacher in his home town for 18 months, at which point his father began to realise that his son was really serious about this.
The young Asaf graduated to one of the country’s best teachers and stayed with him for four or five years. But this new teacher took some winning over.
“He didn’t really believe that I was going to become a drummer but I was very persistent and really wanted it, obviously. I was ready to work hard and persuade him I was a much better drummer than I actually was.”
Persistence paid off. During his teacher’s regular telephone progress reports to Asaf’s father, the tone changed from sceptical to convinced.
“I loved the drums so much,” recalls Asaf.
“I didn’t care about anything else.”
Nowadays Asaf Sirkis is most closely associated in this region with jazz, having performed with North East jazz saxophonist Tim Garland and under the Schmazz label at The Cluny in Newcastle.
But he’s not really so easy to pigeonhole, reflecting that when he was growing up he didn’t really get much guidance about what he should be listening to if he wanted to become a professional player.
“Instinctively I was drawn to the more creative improvisational music which was around when I was growing up.
“I also listened a lot to The Beatles and The Police and also slightly more sophisticated progressive rock – bands like Yes and Genesis.
“Shortly after that I got into jazz rock. I was massively into Weather Report (the American jazz band of the 1970s and early 80s).
“I had all the albums and even went to see a concert they did in Israel in 1984. I listened to a lot of electric jazz and that became my step into jazz rock.”
Asaf left Israel in 1999 for Holland on the advice of a fellow musician who lived there.
He stayed three months before moving on to Paris. It took him only two months to realise he didn’t feel comfortable in the French capital.
“I visited London and made a lot of friends within a few days. It was quite amazing. I went to a few gigs and felt really welcome.
“I felt there was a lot of potential there - and I’m still there. It is a good place to be.
“There is such a good level of young musicians coming out of music schools and I find them very inspiring.”
It was with a group called Inner Noise that Asaf became known in this country, although he agrees that a line-up including church organ, guitar and drums didn’t bring a flood of bookings.
“It was so difficult to get gigs. Obviously people hadn’t heard anything like this before.”
For now, though, he is concentrating on his Asaf Sirkis Trio, which also features Tassos Piliotopoulos on guitar and Yaron Stavi on electric bass.
Their new album, Letting Go, is to be launched in September with a tour that will bring them to The Sage Gateshead on October 30 to perform on a double bill with the John Law Trio, Asaf to perform on drums in both.
This will be Asaf’s sixth album since 1997 and the second for the Asaf Sirkis Trio, which he set up in 2006.
“I think the second album has a stronger voice,” he suggests.
And the title? “It’s letting go in the sense of not worrying about anything when you play. Our music comes out of letting go. It’s not something that comes forcefully, it’s about being more real.”
When the Asaf Sirkis Trio plays live, he explains, there are parameters which allow for a degree of improvisation and for the music to really catch fire. If that happens at the Sage, it should be a hot gig indeed.
Tickets are on sale at The Sage Gateshead. Tel. 0191 443 4661. Letting Go is out next month. Check www.asafsirkis.co.uk
18/07/2010 Richard A. Sharma
To be officially released on 23rd September, Asaf Sirkis Trio's Letting Go is their second album (Sirkis' fifth as a leader since he settled in the UK), now on Stonedbird Productions.
And now, for something completely different. The title could hardly be more apt. Letting Go is the Asaf Sirkis Trio, well, letting go. The spirituality and cerebralness are still there, but the mood is very different to Sirkis' previous offerings, being much more extrovert and light-hearted, happy, almost jolly, even in the more contemplative numbers. This is Asaf Sirkis' personality coming through to the full, for in truth, Sirkis' is one of the sunniest, nicest personalities you could hope to encounter. His co-conspirators, master bassist Yaron Stavi and guitar wiz Tassos Spiliotopoulos, are also given plenty of scope to bring out their personalities and styles. This is a trio that is comfortable with each other, that has grown together and has grown into a very tight unit. (They also perform as the Tassos Spiliotopoulos Trio.) On Other Stars And Planets and Ima, they are perfectly complemented by guest artist Patrick Bettison's outstanding, magical harmonica - you won't hear better jazz harmonica in these isles. That Bettison should have no difficulty fitting in is easy enough to understand when you bear in mind that he also plays with Sirkis in the Nicolas Meier Group as well as Meier's electric trio.
Sirkis is utterly devastating as always on Letting Go, as breathtakingly creative as a drummer as he is as a composer, drawing deep from within, letting the music emerge from his inspiration and instinct. Generally, the influences of prog rock are more to the fore here than previously, as well as those of earlier fusion exponents such as Allan Holdsworth. In addition, Sirkis' continuing interest in Carnatic music finds expression on the opening track, Chennai Dream, with an attractive unison line in Carnatic style.
The trap work shows off Sirkis' incredibly expansive palette and out-of-this-world cymbal work, as well as his perfection of timing and time-keeping, that have long made him the foremost and most in-demand jazz drummer anywhere with a schedule with all the good and great everywhere that seems almost impossibly busy. Yet, as indeed one would expect from such a truly great drummer, with all his brilliant virtuosity Sirkis never becomes over-indulgent and avoids excessive "trap-crobatics" for their own sake. As always, he finds the perfect balance between exuberance and restraint. Asaf Sirkis' trap work is, then, sheer joy, and one could happily listen to him soloing for hours, unfolding his soundscapes and textures that here range from rich to the almost fragile, filigree-like.
The compositions on Letting Go are equally as strong, sometimes harkening back to earlier work here and there. Sirkis finds just the right balance between composition and soloing and gives Spiliotopoulos and Stavi plenty of scope and freedom to shine. Letting Go is more lyrical still than the previous The Monk and has the quality of a happy dream. With his Asaf Sirkis Trio, and especially this current offering, Sirkis has taken fusion to yet another new level. His creativity seems boundless and almost frightening, especially when you realise that Sirkis has far from reached his peak yet, both as a composer and as a drummer.
With Letting Go, Sirkis' music remains as accessible and subtle as ever, full of charm, delicacy and wit, as well as an irresistible vitality, immediacy and vibrancy. The feeling is almost that of a live recording. Inspired as well as inspiring, this music sets your imagination alight.
As you could take for granted with Sirkis, Letting Go is a thoroughly consistent album, with not a single weak track to be found, and is utterly compelling, even riveting. Asaf Sirkis is more than just a great drummer and composer, he is a force of nature. Do yourself a favour and, in addition to buying this album (for the impatient, advance copies are available now on Sirkis' web site and from Jazz CDs UK) treat yourself to attending the launch gig (details on the main Jazz page). It's bound to be a very special experience, as indeed any Sirkis live performance is. Don't miss out!
The Asaf Sirkis Trio's Letting Go is, like any Sirkis release, far beyond essential in any good modern jazz collection, and particularly so in any fusion collection. The same applies to any good collection of contemporary drumming as well as any good guitar collection. Not to be missed!
09/04/2009 Bill Milkowski
Asaf Sirkis Trio
By Bill Milkowski
Israeli-born drummer and London resident Asaf Sirkis unleashes with thunderous abandon on this hard-hitting fusion offering that harkens back to a time before the genre became codified, diluted and reduced to a critical joke. Guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, a six-string shredder clearly influenced by Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin, flaunts some impressive chops on the Mahavishnu-flavored “Stoned Bird,” while special guest Gary Husband showcases his highly personalized approach to synthesizer on “Dream” and the suitelike title track. Sirkis also wields whirlwind chops on the inventive drum showcase “Without a Story.”
10/10/2008 Chris Ingham
MOJO, November 2008 **** (4 stars)Israeli drummer leads prog-jazz power trio.Known largely for his work with Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, Sirkis has also led some superb albums in the last decade. The obvious reference point is the muscular drummer led fusion of Tony Williams’ late ‘60s/early ‘70s trio Lifetime, and like Williams, Sirkis is not only an inventive drummer but also a composer of rigour, wit and surprising delicacy. The extrovert opener Stoned Bird and the haunting title track set the tone. Sirkis’s neat firepower is showcased amid plangent guitar arpeggios from Tassos Spiliotopoulos, lyrical bass work from Yaron Stavi and berserk keyboard cameos from guest Gary Husband. These capable creative players produce a lot of music here, but there’s air and expressive space too, especially in the quietly exploratory Without A Story and the ruminative End of the Circle in which Sirkis sketches fascinatingly elaborate and subtle percussive commentary.
09/10/2008 John Kelman
All About Jazz review, September 2008
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 Husband—a clear reference point for Sirkis—makes 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.
01/10/2008 John Fordham
Jazz UK, October 2008
A new group for drummer Asaf Sirkis, who has been raising the temperature of Gilad Atzmon’s bands for years and latterly imparting new sonorities to pianist John Law’s trio. Sirkis clearly has a fondness for 1970s heavy-electric fusion music, and there are definite echoes of John McLaughlin’s Inner Mounting Flame or Birds of Fire sound in the early tracks here. Keyboardist Gary Husband, a fan of the genre himself, compounds the effect on a few guest tracks, but between the power-chords and tumultuous percussion there are slowly unfolding passages of Bill Frisell-like contemplation for Tassos Spiliotopoulos’s guitar. A bit meandering at times, but Sirkis’s drumming is dazzling and Yaron Stavi’s electric bass is both tightly-grooving and improvisationally responsive.
19/09/2008 Jack Massarik
The monk is the Jazz CD of the week in the Evening Standard, September 19th, 2008!
This combination of London talent is a direct result of the musicians' grapevine. Asaf Sirkis, talented composer and left-handed drummer, is an admirer of Gary Husband, a reclusive piano genius whose brilliant work too seldom reaches the record racks. A reminder of his dashing postmodern style, as recently heard on tour with John McLaughlin, adds at least one star to Asaf's power-trio with bassist Yaron Stavi and Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos. Their gothic rock touches aren't up my street, but the overall jazz feel most definitely is.
01/10/2005 Mike Butler
Asaf Sirkis & the Inner Noise - We Are Falling - CD Reviews
City Life Magazine, October 2005
Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise have real presence, albeit a malevolent one. Sirkis is an Israeli-born drummer with enough muscle to power a thunderstorm, whilst Mike Outram, the guitarist with the Inner Noise, is an invigorating player. The dominant voice on We Are Falling (Konnex), however, is Steve Lodder's sombre church-like organ. The drama comes in the contrast between sepulchral chill (Lodder) and the forces of light (Outram), as Sirkis splinters the rhythm into jagged counter-patterns.
01/07/0013 Cherles Dunlop, Bath Listomania
The Asaf Sikis Trio – drummer Asaf with Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and Israeli bassist Yaron Stavi – have just finished their third album, Shepherd's Stories, to be released July 17.
It is a distinct pleasure to see Asaf's Trio stay together as a unit, develop rapport and continue to find their own unique direction. I say this because after coming to prominence with Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble, Asaf became one of the most sought after drummers in London and has played in a myriad of contexts.
Here, one of Asaf's goals, not always seen in jazz, was to make a beautiful and melodic album and he has succeeded – without compromising any jazz aesthetic. Asaf sees music in a spiritual light and is intrigued by our relationship to it, especially in this case, to melody.
The trio is a very egalitarian one. If anything, Asaf's complex and perfect drumming steps back, with guitar and bass filling out the foreground. Tassos Spiliotopoulos' electric guitar generally alternates between chorus-effected, sometimes reverb-drenched, loveliness for the melodic statements and accompaniment parts. When it comes to soloing, he adopts a fluid, sustained, creamy sound that is a bit more direct. His playing is lovely roller coaster ride, full of rapid runs and interesting melodic takes on the harmonic structures. He has the facility of McLaughlin without the harshness; with a big debt, too, going to Alan Holdsworth.
Bassist Yaron Stavi plays a huge part. Prominent in the mix, playing electric bass, he defines much of the music and plays well-considered, melodic solos, sometimes reminding me of Steve Swallow with an upper register, guitar-like sound.
The last piece, Two Part Melody, is a good example of the style of the band on Shepherd's Stories. The guitar plays a simple shimmering pattern while the bass states the melody, all very deliberate. In the middle section, the guitar solos, with restraint but upping the emotional level considerably before returning to the pattern with the bass now improvising, but in the same relationship to the guitar as in the first part. Throughout, Asaf's drumming accentuates the rises and falls, augments the rhythms, mostly through deft use of cymbals.
There are a few guests. The opening tune, a burner, features a Fender Rhodes solo by John Turville; Gareth Lockrane contributes a terrific flute solo in Together that has all the fluidity of Spiliotopoulos' guitar. On the third song, Traveller, Sylwia Bialas sings wordless ensemble vocals that give the song a beautiful Europop burnish; very lovely indeed.
Though not at all ambient music, Shepherd's Stories has the appeal of much ambient music: consistency of sound, lots of space in the music and, of course, its overriding sense of beauty — with the added attraction of great soloing.
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