CD reviews

Sirkis/Bialas IQ – Our New Earth

SirkisBialasIQ_Our New World_300px.jpgSirkis/Bialas IQ – Our New Earth (MoonJune Records MJR099. CD review by Adrian Pallant) In his liner notes to Our New Earth, esteemed drummer Bill Bruford references the dual basis of this 2CD release from the Sirkis/Bialas IQ (International Quartet): the challenge of improving our turbulent world, and an exploratory approach to music – “you don’t play what you practiced anymore”. Israeli-born Asaf Sirkis is firmly established as drummer and percussionist across many projects on the global jazz and jazz-rock scenes, and his longtime partnership with Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas resulted in their quartet’s 2014 debut album, Come To Me, which introduced their brooding expanses of original composition and improvisation. Returning for this second recording is pianist/keyboardist Frank Harrison, with six-string electric bassist Kevin Glasgow completing the line-up. Throughout these 85 minutes, the musical democracy interprets both concern and hope for the future of our fractured world, so its sound has developed with increasing intensity and potency. While some of Sirkis’s collaborations are found in powerhouse guitar-led albums such as those of Mark Wingfield and Markus Reuter, here his myriad expressions in percussion and konnakol complement the instrumental essence of his co-leader’s wordless or Polish-language vocalisations (in live performance, Bialas intentionally positions herself within the group) amidst the impressive, integral presence of Harrison and Glasgow. It’s an ambitious concept, hewn from jazz, prog rock, European folk, South Indian and Middle Eastern music; and the scale of these sequential soundscapes, rising up from ruminative, haunting foundations, may even require some acclimatisation. But SBIQ skilfully craft their invocatory outpourings, with Sylwia Bialas’s notable dexterity – including overtone singing and harmonic overdubs – frequently at the top of the wave. As the album proceeds, the sense of imagination and discovery feels personal, from ominous yet driven If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly in Spirals) to yearning folksong Land of Oblivion. The latter reinforces Kevin Glasgow’s remarkable six-string bass range as he emulates guitar broken chords, quite distinct from his earthy mobility or melodic solo improv. The quartet’s textures evocatively create impressions of place – for example, Frank Harrison’s excellently austere pipe-organ voicings in Letter to A. take us up into a dimly-lit chancel; and Bialas’s emotive, bluesy Chiaroscuro suspends time, her wide vocal expression caressing the subtlest touches from a standard piano trio (perhaps the closest she veers to ‘singer and band’). Opening the first half of twenty-minute The Earth Suite, an Indian drone and Bialas’s echoic shepherdess calls announce Rooting, where meditative auras eventually break into lively piano-fuelled jazz; and Sirkis’s remarkably rapid, precise konnakol features alongside a range of percussive timbres in Our New Earth. Elsewhere, unexpected effects such as waterphone in Spooky Action at a Distance create more ambient moments, while closing Picture from a Polish Wood seems to gather together strands from the whole album into a fluid jazz-rock finale pushed on by Sirkis’s characteristic drum-kit colorations and refractions. An immersive, questioning record dedicated to “our planet, in the hope of a better future for all of us”, Our New Earth ultimately reflects beauty, hope, and solidarity for the common good, all through absorbing musicianship. See where it takes you.

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