Asaf Sirkis Trio

Letting Go
Stonebird Productions SBPT 002

Dead Country

Featuring Eugene Chadbourne

Konnex KCD 5250

Unique and somewhat freaky glimpses into music that usually percolates a little outside as what can only be described as mainstream avant garde is provided by these CDs. While that term may be an oxymoron, how often is British-Israeli Jazz-Rock or Improv-Country-Rock played by a Turkish American combo on the musical front burner?

In truth, Letting Go, consisting of seven compositions by London-based, Petah Tikva-born drummer Asaf Sirkis is high-class Fusion that ignores neither the inventive Jazz nor the rhythmic Rock thrust of that particular hybrid. Besides Sirkis’ inventive – and most importantly never overpowering – percussion work, the CD features solidly reflective electric bass fills from Tel Aviv-born Yaron Stavi and roistering lead-guitar licks from Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

Distinctively enough many of Spiliotopoulos’ solos are invested with Country & Western-styled licks, although whether by tradition or idiosyncratic concept is unclear. But a similar trope on the other CD fits perfectly with the sounds created by a combo from Greece’s long-time friendly enemy, Turkey, especially when the Istanbul-based foursome is working with Yank banjoist/guitarist Eugene Chadbourne. Peripatetic Chadbourne, whose influences stretch through Avant-Garde Jazz, Pop-Rock, Comedy and Country Music, certainly put his stamp on the five tracks here. Even ignoring his one full-fledged vocal performance, much of the other music appears to be an almost undigested meal of Psychedelic Rock and Hard Country. The members of Dead Country – guitarists Sevket Akinci and Umut Çağlar, electric bassist Demirhan Byalan and drummer Kerem Öktem – follow gamely along. But considering that Çağlar for one, has worked with Free Improv saxophones such as Jürg Solothurnmann, Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann, the suspicion remains that there’s probably other sounds lurking below the surface that the foursome would also like to play.

Weather Report’s spectre seems to hang over Letting Go, at least in some of the band’s melodic quirks. But Sirkis is canny enough to restrict his composing to the contours of a basic power trio, although in the past he had made room for a saxophone and even a church organ [!] in his bands. A subtle intermezzo such as “Other Stars and Planets” does receive additional sound layering from Patrick Bettison’s harmonica. But even here the harpist’s chromatic pitch-sliding isn’t allowed to upset the tune’s cohesion. While downward chiming guitar licks and Stavi’s organ-like sluices retain their power, the drummer’s slapping and tapping accompaniment is subtle enough to balance both the tough and the tender side of the tune. It’s the same with “Waltz for Rehovot”. As Spiliotopoulos sticks to finger-styled chording, Sirkis’ drags and slides manage the difficult task of making the tune both a foot-tapper and a tender ballad.

Elsewhere he maintains the beat and extends the musical drama no matter the tempo with double ruffs, cymbal swishes, upturned paradiddles plus cowbell and snare rebounds. Stavi’s steady bass stopping solidifies the performance as do the guitarist’s runs – when Spiliotopoulos concentrates on atmospheric coloring rather than crunches and slurred fingering.

With three plectrumists on the loose – four if you count the electric bassist – a wider variety of string licks appear on the other CD. However the program is more solid when everyone moves away from the sort of electric pulsations and distortions that almost replicate an acid-drenched freak-out at San Francisco’s Fillmore auditorium circa 1967 and concentrate on more original ideas. It’s probably Chadbourne whose half-heard yells and asides on the final two tracks drag the performance towards later Fugs territory. But elsewhere, when intermittent, motor-driven amp buzzes and his claw-hammer banjo licks are more upfront something unique seems to happen. With the drummer socking a steady 4/4, the pieces are rhythmic enough. And when the guitarists put aside gimmickry to concentrate on chromatic rasgueado and fills, it’s as if Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics experiments are being played by an out-and-out Rock band.

As superior and restrained Fusion, Letting Go reaches many more of its goals than does the program on the other CD. But with all the talent on display, one wishes Sirkis et. al would have extended their cerebral talents just a little bit more. On the other hand, Dead Country and Chadbourne appear to have tried on a few more stylistic costumes for size than the other group. But, by the same token, if the five had directed their efforts more towards pure improv, the end product would have been more impressive.

Although Chadbourne completists will probably be satisfied with this CD, a set of higher-grade improvisations is needed from Çağlar and his associates to show what they really can do.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Featuring: 1. Black Hole 2. Mole in the Ground 3. Dead Country Blues 4. Intro/Sooner or Later 5. One Way Out

Personnel: Featuring: Eugene Chadbourne (guitar, banjo and vocals); Sevket Akinci and Umut Çağlar (guitars); Demirhan Byalan (electric bass) and Kerem Öktem (drums)

Track Listing: Letting: 1. Chennai Dream 2. Letting Go 3. Other Stars and Planets* 4. Lady of the Lake 5. Full Moon 6. Ima* 7. Waltz for Rehovot

Personnel: Letting: Patrick Bettison (harmonica)*; Tassos Spiliotopoulos (guitar); Yaron Stavi (electric bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums)