FEATURE: Tassos Spiliotopoulos (New CD In the North; Tour dates in UK 26 Sep-28 Oct)

Tassos Spiliotopoulos
Photo credit: Garry Corbett

Athens-born guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos studied at Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. During a dozen years on the jazz scene in the capital, he built up a reputation for quality and integrity by stacking up sideman work alongside the likes of the late Kenny Wheeler, John Etheridge, Gary Husband, Asaf Sirkis and John Parricelli, in addition to forming his own groups and releasing two albums as leader. These days he is based in Stockholm where he lead a quartet. Earlier this year they released “In the North” and launched the album in Sweden. The quartet tours in the UK this autumn. Interview by Stephen Graham:

Tassos started out playing rock and metal as a teenager but says he quickly “felt confined” by that music. “I think I was looking for something new in terms of harmonic/rhythmic sophistication and texture, so when I stumbled upon a certain solo by Scott Henderson it blew me away! From there I got more and more into jazz. For me jazz is a blend of many things and the freedom to throw in different influences is what attracted me the most.”

His move to Stockholm was quite a watershed moment for him. “I moved for reasons mostly unrelated to music and more to do with family/relationships. At the same time after living, studying and working in London for more than 12 years I felt I needed a renewal and a new chapter in life. There is a great jazz scene in Stockholm with some really fantastic musicians. I think one difference is that London has a bigger jazz community with many smaller venues started by musicians.”

Tassos admits that it is hard to pinpoint just one musician as his greatest jazz inspiration, “because it seems that I’m getting really into a certain artist for a period and then completely let them go after a while. During other periods my inspiration comes from different styles of music. However, the musicians that have had a lasting impact on me are those who not only play great but also compose music that carries some kind of meaning, like Chick Corea. Having said that I do also appreciate guitar innovators like Joe Pass, Allan Holdsworth, Biréli Lagrène, Sylvain Luc and many more.”

There was a little music in his family growing up, he says, but more as a hobby. “My mother played the piano and there was a guitar lying around that my dad would pick up every now and then. No one in my family was a professional musician so it was probably a bit unexpected that I would go down that road. I think they started to get the picture when I systematically refused to pay any attention at school and instead practised the guitar and played with my band all day long. I was fortunate enough to have great guitar teachers while at college such as Mike Outram and John Parricelli, and I learned so much during that time. It was also great to go to masterclasses with visiting artists and learn about their different concepts and also sit in and play with many of them. The most important part for me though is that I had the opportunity to sit in a room and practise for many hours every day. I remember leaving the college building at closing time late every night.”

He definitely considers himself as much a composer as a guitarist. “Absolutely, these two things have always gone hand in hand for me. Playing and learning the guitar is something I do purely because I think it’s fun. I get a different kind of kick from composition because I can take the time to make everything sound right. It’s like creating a dream scenario about how music should or could sound.”

The guitar he plays most of the time is a PRS (Paul Reed Smith) Hollowbody II. “It’s the best sounding guitar I have tried even if it’s a little harder to play. I recently changed from valve to solid state Roland amps because I like the really clean tone better. That way I can control the amount of drive as well as effects from my Line 6 M13. Also, I find that solid state amps don’t break as easily as valves while on the road.”

As for his current band he says: “I first met saxophonist Örjan Hultén in Stockholm and really liked his broad approach to jazz. He incorporates a certain ethnic element to his sound which I am also interested in and felt would suit my music. Fredrik Rundqvist is a wonderful drummer with a great sense of time and interesting ideas. Together with Palle Sollinger on bass they form a formidable rhythm section.”

In the North is Tassos’ third album following on from Wait For Dusk in 2006 (Konnex), with Robin Fincker (Tenor Saxophone), Yaron Stavi (Bass) and Asaf Sirkis (Drums), and then Archipelagos in 2010 (F-IRE) with Sirkis and Stavi, and featuring guests John Parricelli and Kenny Wheeler. “I have been a fan of Kenny’s music for years. His compositions most of all as well as his playing seem to have a timeless quality to them. His harmonic language and phrasing made his playing sound modern in any setting. It was an absolute thrill just to have him playing with us in the studio.”

Tassos’ approach is very eclectic with Greek folk music, flamenco, the blues and fusion creeping in. Rather than seeing jazz as just one of many styles that is part of his musical personality he spins that idea on its head: “I think of it more the other way around actually. I see jazz, if that’s the right word for this music, as a platform for bringing together a variety of influences. I hear interesting things in all kinds of music, pop, folk, classical etc, and I want to let all that come out in my own music without worrying too much about sticking to any stylistic agenda.” (pp)

Tour dates include
– Vortex, London (26 September)
– Dempsey’s Cardiff (27 Sept)
– Queen’s Head, Monmouth (28 Sept)
– Soundcellar, Poole (29 Sept)
– Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham (30 Sept)
– St Ives Jazz Club, St Ives Cornwall (25 October)
– Speakeasy Torquay (26 Oct)
–  Fleece Jazz, Suffolk (28 Oct).

LINKS: Tassos Spiliotopoulos website
CD Review: In the North

Categories: miscellaneous

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