Connecting life with music and drums

Taking the road less traveled isn’t a recent decision for London-based Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis.

Asaf Sirkis 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Asaf Sirkis 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Asaf Sirkis has come a long way since he departed these shores 15 years ago, to further his musical endeavor in the big wide world.
Then again, in a way, he never left.
That comes through loud and clear in the eponymous debut album of the Lighthouse Trio, on which the 43-year-old Petah Tikva-born drummer joined forces with British pair pianist Gwilym Simcock and saxophonist-clarinetist Tim Garland, and which came out on the German-based ACT record label last year.
Betwixt the straight-ahead jazz stuff and the more left field exploratory jazz-oriented forays there are clear cut signs and sounds from the Middle East.
I hooked up with Sirkis, and the other members of the trio, a few months ago, at the 2012 Jazz-ahead international jazz expo in Bremen, Germany, where they put on one of the best-received shows of the three-day event.
Sirkis has lived in the UK for the past 13 years but, when he left Ben-Gurion Airport, he wasn’t thinking about working in the land of fish and chips.
“I went to Holland in 1998, to play with an Israeli guitarist called Amir Perlman,” he recalls. “We had a good time and life was very laid back in Amsterdam.”
But a trip across the North Sea changed all that. “I went to London, just for a week for a visit, and I found a jazz scene there that was really buzzing.”
In fact, it was almost more than Sirkis could handle.
“I sat in with bands, and I even had offers of gigs that I couldn’t fit in to my schedule. Things were really happening in Britain, and there were many great bands and musicians, so I thought I’d try my luck there.” The following year Sirkis relocated to London.
By all accounts, the drummer has done well for himself since he took up residence in Britain. He quickly landed gigs with jazz musicians from right across the British jazz spectrum, such as Irish-born vocalist Christine Tobin, and jazz and rock drummer, pianist and band leader Gary Husband, but he also started leading his own projects as well as musically maintaining a link with his country of birth.
During Sirkis’s first year in London he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Palestinian oud player and composer Adel Salameh, and established The Inner Noise trio together with Jersey-born keyboardist Steve Lodder and guitarist Mike Outram. The band eventually released three acclaimed albums.
The drummer also joined forces with renowned Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble whose Exile release won Best CD of the Year at the 2003 BBC Jazz Awards.
Sirkis has also led from the front with the Asaf Sirkis Trio of bassist Yaron Stavi and guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, putting out the highly polished Letting Go album in 2010.
The now 31-year-old Simcock and Sirkis have known each other for some time, although the Israeli says it took a while for them to hook up musically. “In 2001, I was at the 606 Club in Chelsea [London] for a gig with [British guitarist] Phil Robson and Gwilym sat in. I wondered who this really shy kid was, and then he started playing and I thought: ‘He’s OK.’” Still there was a phonetic minefield to be negotiated before the two could really start creating. “It took me four more years to learn how to pronounce his name,” jokes Sirkis, “and when I managed to spell his name correctly we started to play music together.”
Most people would not naturally associate London with the kind of high energy jazz vibes that Sirkis describes, and certainly not on the level of New York, or even Paris or places in Germany. While the drummer says he was favorably impressed with the state of affairs in London when he arrived, he says that things have moved along appreciably in the interim. “The jazz scene in London, and in Britain as a whole, has massively changed,” he says, although noting he didn’t exactly have to go around cap in hand in 1999 either. “I found people to play with right from the beginning, which was really great because I didn’t have a penny. And especially in the last six to eight years, the level of young British jazz musicians has just been booming. It’s unbelievable.”
The Lighthouse mob have been together for seven years now and Simcock says the drummer brings significantly added value to their joint efforts. “Both Tim and I have learned so much from Asaf’s rhythmic approach, and from the fact that he has done so much studying of different rhythmic approaches from all over the world. There is so much rhythm in this trio, and such a strong rhythmic basis, that of course Asaf is the propulsion for all that.”
On the opening track of Lighthouse, Space Junk, Sirkis starts off behind the drum set before darting into a darbouka slot which takes the beat to another level.
Garland, an accomplished composer, is certainly appreciative of the cultural spread in the band.
“This cross-fertilization of cultures is the very food of which many of us feed. The whole history of jazz is bound up with it. It’s all about synthesis and that way you never stop growing. I think most of the more interesting jazz composers take a lot of their influences from what would be considered outside of jazz.”
According to Garland, almost anything goes. “If you think of jazz more as an approach, rather than a set genre, then all the arguments about whether this or that is jazz go out of the window.”
Sirkis certainly feels comfortable with that mindset and one hopes, before too long, we’ll get a chance to hear him and his Lighthouse pals in this part of the world.