Inner Noise - Epic Fusion For The 21st Century
Asaf Sirkis, the world class drum phenomenon reminiscent of Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams at the height of their powers that's taken the British scene by storm over the last few years, is perhaps best known as the engine of the rhythm section of the equally phenomenal Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble (and the Gilad Atzmon Quartet). The recently released album Inner Noise features the UK's leading drummer with his own trio, Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise.
Originally partially commissioned by the Department of Arts of the Tel Aviv City Council, Sirkis' Inner Noise project was performed around Israel in 1997 to 1998 prior to his moving to the UK. Since moving to Britain in 1999, Asaf Sirkis has re-formed his Inner Noise trio with organist/keyboardist Steve Lodder and guitarist Mike Outram. Inner Noise, Sirkis' second solo album was recorded in March 2002 at St. Michael's Church in Highgate, North London, and released in 2003 on Konnex Records. Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise are about as far as you can get from a conventional organ trio, not only featuring as it does full-blown church organ rather than the traditional Hammond B3, but moreover, playing music on a truly epic, even monumental scale.
First impressions of Inner Noise might recall Miles Davis and the Bitches' Brew project and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra in its first incarnation, as well as prog rock bands Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes (though without the remotest hint of the latter's near-plagiarism). But such comparisons could never do this album proper justice, for it goes far beyond any of these yet maintains a far greater accessibility than Davis' and McLaughlin's brands of fusion. While all these are certainly influences, Inner Noise also shows clear influences of modern classical organ composers, in particular Olivier Messiaen, as well as of Arabic classical music. Sirkis gives all three instruments broadly equal importance and sculpts a vast soundscape of monumental proportions, employing strong, rich textures as well as delicate, transparent ones as appropriate, and making fullest use of the rich palette available to him, both in terms of the overall instrumental colours and the colours of his own trap set. His drumming is as brilliantly virtuosic and inventive as has indeed become his trademark, combining subtlety and sheer effervescent exuberance, even ecstasy, and while running a tight ship, Sirkis also gives his fellow band members plenty of space where appropriate. Lodder's and Outram's playing complements the master drummer's perfectly, with both superb ensemble playing and outstanding soloing.
The result is an album that is utterly absorbing and compelling and reveals Sirkis as a very formidable composer and arranger indeed. Inner Noise doesn't just push boundaries, it completely transcends them and thus defies categorisation. To describe it as a fusion of jazz, classical and progressive rock would tell only half the story. You could file Inner Noise under any of these genres, but you'll never confine it, any more than you could define it. One previous reviewer suggested the label "Gothic Jazz", a horrific oversimplification in my opinion if not a downright abomination. Far better to focus on just enjoying the experience that Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise provide with this most remarkable and intense album.
The opener, Lucidity, is in many respects the track most reminiscent of Mahavishnu, but where the latter frequently lost themselves Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise never lose sight of the final destination. The tight reign Sirkis keeps and the flowing, high-energy improvs make for a powerful combination that gets things on the boil straight off. Three Ways starts off reflectively and somewhat tentatively before turning into an intense guitar-driven exploration. True to its title, Hope is mainly pervaded by optimism albeit with somewhat "gothic" touches in the organ here and there that are reminiscent at once of Bach's (greater) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and of Messiaen generally. The guitar work often reminds of Carlos Santana in his jazziest period in the early 1970s, with strong Coltranean touches. On Floating, a meditative piece, a high guitar gently floats above a mainly subdued, almost drone-like organ and Sirkis' imaginative, sensitive trap work. The title track, Inner Noise, features some of the most intense improvs and builds up formidable tension that is only resolved in the final lighter organ chords. Desert Vision is perhaps the most balladic of the pieces, calm, quiet, almost laid-back if it weren't for an almost tangible feeling of desolation in the wide open sound spaces. Organ and guitar are also given considerable space on The Only Way, the intensity building up progressively to a near-climactic conclusion. The also balladic Questions is again more meditative, and quite delicate. White Elephant provides the high-intensity closer, very considered, deliberate drumming framing an increasingly impassioned organ and driving guitar, only to temporarily drop into a reflective, quiet interlude that further underscores the leviathan nature and proportions of this composition as it continues to unfold to its inevitable climax.
Asaf Sirkis & The Inner Noise boldly go where fusion only hesitantly put out the odd foot before, and where prog rock could at best dream of going had it dared to. The music is vibrant, vital, exciting and fresh and even manages to surprise. One of these surprises is its wonderful accessibility and immediacy. Inner Noise has to be essential in any modern jazz and modern classical collection at the very least. Grab the original issue while you can as it's almost guaranteed to become a prized collectible.
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