Profile - Asaf Sirkis
All photos of Asaf Sirkis this page by Richard A. Sharma.
Copyright © 2004 Richard A. Sharma. All rights reserved.
|Sub-Genre/s:||Fusion, crossover, prog jazz, contemporary, Third Stream|
|Instrument/s:||drum kit, frame drums, Middle Eastern drums|
|Date Info First Pub'd:||2005/04/10 (major update 2008/07, also 2009/11; revd. 2010/10)|
|Listen to Asaf Sirkis' albums and watch videos|
Asaf Sirkis - mercurial drum phenomenon of our time
Best known perhaps until 2009 as the engine of the rhythm section of the phenomenal Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble (and the Gilad Atzmon Quartet), Asaf Sirkis is a world class drum phenomenon reminiscent of Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams at the height of their powers, who has taken the British scene - and well beyond - by storm since his settling in the UK in 1999.
Asaf Sirkis was born in 1969 in Petah-Tikva, Israel, and lived for most of his teens and early twenties in the town of Rehovot in the midst of the most diverse cultural influences, amongst people from North Africa, east and central Europe, and the Middle East. Specifically, living in Shaarayim, the Yemenite neighbourhood of Rehovot, Asaf Sirkis was particularly drawn to Yemenite culture, music, and rhythms. He began drum lessons at age twelve but also had a marked interest in playing electric bass. His musical influences from that time have stayed with Sirkis into the present and continue to influence his composing and playing, and he lists, among many other influences, The Beatles, Mahavishnu Orchestra, ELP, Yes, The Police, Genesis, Allan Holdsworth, and Weather Report.
Following his compulsory three year national service stint, 1990 saw Asaf Sirkis starting his professional musical career, playing with many different young jazz-rock, klezmer, world music, and free jazz bands. Through the 1990s, Sirkis collaborated with some of Israel's finest jazz and world music luminaries including Harold Rubin, Albert Beger, Yair Dalal and Eyal Sela. Many of these early projects were released on pioneering Israeli jazz label Jazzis. Sirkis started writing music even in those early days but only found a proper outlet for his own music when he formed his first trio, consisting of Kobi Arad on keyboards and Gabriel Mayer on bass, in 1995, having moved to Tel Aviv in 1993. With this, the first Asaf Sirkis Trio, he recorded his first, independently released, album One Step Closer. Sirkis was already critically acclaimed in this decade as Israel's greatest drummer and percussionist who ought not be confined to Israel alone but deserving of much wider international recognition.
Inspired by French Church Organ composers such as Olivier Messiaen, Maurice Duruflé and Cesar Frank, Asaf Sirkis formed his new band The Inner Noise consisting of Adi Goldstein on church organ, Amir Perelman on electric guitar and Sirkis himself on drums in 1996. Their first project was commissioned by the Arts Department of the Tel Aviv City Council and was performed around Israel during 1997-8.
As for many, the draw of "greener pastures" proved too strong, and in 1998 Sirkis left first for The Netherlands and then France, before settling in London in April 1999 where he very soon become a part of the UK Jazz and world music scene. That year also saw Asaf Sirkis starting to work with Adel Salameh, a Palestinian oud player/composer, with whom he recorded the album Nuzha which for the first time, featured Sirkis' remarkable Middle Eastern frame drum playing on an international recording. 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.
A meeting in 1999 with reedman Gilad Atzmon resulted in the formation of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble in 2000 and a creative collaboration that endures to the present and includes several album releases on Enja. 2003 saw the release of Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise's groundbreaking debut album Inner Noise on Konnex. We Are Falling, also on Konnex, followed in 2005, and The Song Within in 2007 on SAM Productions/Egea. The same year also saw Sirkis forming an electric trio, The Asaf Sirkis Trio with Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos and Israeli bassist and OHE band mate Yaron Stavi. Their first album, The Monk, was released September 2008 to great critical acclaim. Their second album, Letting Go, followed in September 2010 and saw Sirkis exploring lighter, happier themes.
Increasing work with his own trios, Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise and The Asaf Sirkis Trio, as well as multiple other commitments such as featuring as a regular with Larry Coryell's Power Trio with Larry Coryell, guitar (and one of the pioneers of fusion of the 60s/70s) and Jeff Berlin, bass, and his regular collaboration with saxophonist/composer Tim Garland - especially as a regular of Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio - since 2006, resulting in a number of albums also, one also featuring legendary pianist Chick Corea, as well as with John Law's Art of Sound, resulted in Sirkis parting from Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, although Atzmon and Sirkis of course still collaborate in guitar wizard Nicolas Meier's Meier Group.
The irrepressible Asaf Sirkis
One might be forgiven for thinking that all this would be enough for any ordinary mortal in such a relatively short time span. But Asaf Sirkis is anything but ordinary and seems to be possessed of boundless amounts of energy and creativity. Today, Sirkis is undoubtedly the world's premier drummer and also the most in-demand drummer of our time, and the list of his performing and recording credits reads like a virtual "Who's Who" of the music world, be it jazz or world music and a few besides. They include, among almost countless others (in no particular order), Simon Fisher Turner, Andy Sheppard, Tim Garland, Nicolas Meier Group, John Law’s Art Of Sound trio, Gary Husband, Christine Tobin, John Etherigde, Phil Robson, and Julian Siegel. More names all in all than you could easily shake a stick at!
It is very easy though to see why the good and the great of today's music world practically queue up to work with Asaf Sirkis. He is quite simply more than exceptional or a genius and phenomenon. A left-handed drummer (ask around and you'll soon discover what immense difficulties that throws up!), Sirkis turned even that 'problem' into a virtue. His voice and style are as uniquely his as Pavorotti's were Pavarotti's, ranging from mercurial and downright explosive to sensitive, tender and gentle, and everything in between and even beyond. Sirkis, whether in a volcanic blow-out, a hurricane-driven torrent, or a gentle ocean breeze, is ever sensitive in his playing as well as to the music and mood. His attack is always deadly precise, never a merest hint of sloppiness, whether playing the hardest sticks or gentlest brushes, his timing and time-keeping are never less than perfect. To that, add astounding improvisational powers and ingenuity. Sirkis' extraordinary trap work is at once innovative and imaginative, yet instinctive, intuitive. He provides not mere rhythm but textures and soundscapes, from the vast, luscious on an almost cosmic scale to the delicate, intricate, filigree-like and the most intimate, like the thinnest, merest veil, like a barely discernible fine morning mist - the palettes of colour and texture he extracts from his traps seem almost infinite. And don't even try to tie Sirkis down to any particular genre or genres, it would be utterly futile. 'Genres' may be convenient at times, but in the real world of music and musicians they ultimately don't have any place.
It would be hard to think of sufficient superlatives to describe this still young phenomenon's drumming, whether it be his usual traps or Middle Eastern frame drums, or for that matter any kind of percussion. Latterly, Sirkis has also taken to, among others, the udu - an African clay pot drum that he has particularly employed with Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio, and to great effect - and the hang drum or steel drum, and konakol, the Carnatic art of drum vocalisation (as opposed to the mere mnemonics of say the North Indian bhol). Never content, Sirkis is currently also exploring the Carnatic mridangam. If it can be made to make some kind of percussive sound, Asaf Sirkis can and will make it sound great. And if technical and musical perfection weren't enough, like most true greats Sirkis is possessed of a quite disarming modesty. An all-round nice guy, charming and easy-going and always up for a joke, with no hint of the mercurial that's at times to be found in his drumming. And what drumming and percussion! All in all, the greats such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette (I'm not writing off the latter here yet, far from it, he still does some pretty great stuff) can and I think would be content to have found such a truly worthy successor to their crown as Asaf Sirkis.
Of course, one must not forget Sirkis' formidable strength as a composer also, which he has proven time and again on his albums with The Inner Noise and The Asaf Sirkis Trio. Distinguished by deep intuition and inspiration and a limitless imagination, Sirkis the composer is a force of nature just as much as Sirkis the drummer. As a leader with his trios, Sirkis is equally outstanding. While he leads his band mates and the music firmly but subtly and intuitively, he is never less than generous in letting his band mates shine. Both as a drummer and as a leader, one of Sirkis' greatest strengths is his incredible sensitivity and intuition.
In just over a decade since settling in London, Asaf Sirkis has firmly established himself as one of the true colossi of the traps and percussion and of jazz.
We Are Falling
The Song Within
1998 Asaf Sirkis Trio - One Step Closer (Fasson 009)
(1990 - 1999, Israel)
One Step Closer
Asaf Sirkis' recordings can be purchased:
From artist's web site
From Jazz CDs UK
From Jewish Music Distribution JMD UK
From emusic and iTunes
From better CD stores and other online sources
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