Stefanos Tsourelis Trio – The Wanderer
(Self-release*. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Oud, guitar, jazz, and Greek and Turkish music – Stefanos Tsourelis describes himself as “…a musical wanderer, travelling to different places, using my imagination as a guide.” London-based Tsourelis grew up in Greece studying the Greek lute and oud; on this trio album of his compositions he plays acoustic and electric guitar too.
The final track Waves pulls together all these in a solo piece, multitracked in his home studio. Acoustic guitar arpeggios lilt as his electric guitars and oud drift in and out in dream-like waves. The Stratocaster echoes them, sounding almost like a pipe.
Recorded in studios pre-lockdown, each of the other tracks focuses on one of these instruments, adding Dave Jones’ electric bass and Eric Ford’s drums for an extraordinarily full sound. Interplay and El Divo feature acoustic guitar, with its burnished tone. The chords rise dreamily, serene among the delicate cymbal cascades, at times recalling Dave Holland’s work with Kevin Eubanks. Throughout the album, there are intricate short bursts of Arabic maqams where all three instruments play in close unison – you’re drawn into their focus. Jones’ pensive bass solo coaxes the notes into increasing energy. In contrast, El Divo is a slinky blues (it “refers to a sharply-dressed Mediterranean character”) with a sense of humour. It gets spikier as Ford reveals his range – delicate subtlety to big funk in his dramatic solo.
Tsourelis plays his electric semi-hollow body guitar on the yearning ballad The Wanderer, and on Piece of Mind. In the first, watery guitar harmonics dissolve into whispering cymbals. Gorgeous, unexpected jazz chords are smoothed by the legato guitar solo. Darker arpeggios don’t jar but add another shade. In Piece of Mind, constantly rising chords are punctuated with taut stops and shimmering rivet sounds. Jones’ solo is full of nimble runs as Tsourelis’ intricate solo takes on a rockier sound: Tsourelis has been influenced by John McLaughlin’s trio with Trilok Gurtu. Elegant Beauty ups the rock energy (Tsourelis also loves Hendrix) with its loping hip hop feel and Stratocaster bluesy bends. Jones struts some subtle slap bass.
The oud is to the fore in Moments and Calypso, and the sound seems to glow, with its Arabic trills and quarter tones. Moments is melancholic as Ford’s percussive sounds enhance the tune. Calypso isn’t Caribbean but refers to “a beautiful waterfall on Mountain Kissavos in Thessaly, Greece, named after the goddess.” Several tracks have asymmetrical grooves (Tsourelis has been influenced by Turkish and Greek rhythms) and Calypso seems to sway in different directions. The oud solo blends jazz and traditional music, and is quite compelling.
There’s a strong sense of trust between the musicians, along with superb musicianship. The Wanderer may be about different musical paths, but the album feels like a homecoming.