Stefanos Tsourelis Trio- Native Speaker
(Bandcamp, iTunes. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Stefanos Tsourelis speaks many musical languages on oud and guitar: jazz, rock, music from his native Greece and traditional music for the oud.
He’s now London-based, and his acoustic trio is partly inspired by John McLaughlin’s trio, (the one with percussionist Trilok Gurtu and Dominique Di Piazza.) You can hear the influence in Nostalgia: gently funky jazz chords, and dazzlingly fast runs on Tsourelis’ silvery semi-acoustic guitar, in unison with Dave Jones’ deep-toned electric bass and Eric Ford’s subtle cymbal rushes. Phrygian Major, named for a Greek scale, introduces the oud, with its strongly percussive oriental sound. His oud was made in Turkey and he’s taken on the intricate time signatures of Turkish music here, with an urgent groove. The three trade fours: a spacious moment in the maelstrom to reveal their individual virtuosity.
The tracks have contrasting moods. Calm Sea evokes a Greek beach, written before Tsourelis moved to London, cymbals surfing on the lilting, circular chords – there’s no sense that the harmony wants to pull us anywhere. The folk-edged guitar hints at bop phrasing, yearning and laid back but coiled like a spring, Metheny-esque. The Desert has an Arabic flavour, the oud trilling maqams, rock and blues grooving together in 7/8. Jen’s Tune has a funky Latin groove (fab staccato slap bursts from Jones) interspersed with sweet, quieter, almost ragtime moments. The guitar is sometimes low and fluttery, as if Tsourelis’ oud-playing has influenced his guitar style.
The thoughtful Leafy Gardens has a slow, ecstatic mood, initially recalling John Renbourn but with dizzying time signatures. It’s lovely as the guitar solos bluesy, counterpointed lines over the bubbling bass line, delicate sticks on cymbals following the bass patterns. Mystery Blues has a solid rocky groove, bringing together blues and traditional oud sounds in Dhafer Youssef style. Tsourelis switches to guitar to solo; a hint of distortion in the emotive sweeps reminds us of his Hendrix influences. Native Speaker juxtaposes rocked-out sections with delicate details. The rhythms are nervy, negotiated by Jones as if he’s jumping over the cracks in the pavement, culminating in a superb solo from Ford.
In Squares bass harmonics circle the sliding oud notes, in a grungily Arabic groove. The bass solo is full of jumpy slap and Ford’s solo spills out into the full kit after the restrained percussive sounds. Dreamy, liquid guitar arpeggios open Fluid. Ford often has a wonderfully deadened cymbal sound; here it has a plaintive whine that could be from the Peking Opera. Darker jazz chords drift into a bright, ambient end.
Although Tsourelis has written the tunes, all three musicians have been involved in the arrangements. It sounds as if the music has grown organically. There’s a balance of energy and calm and sheer enjoyment as these many musical languages are brought together.