Asaf Sirkis Trio and Tori Freestone take flight at The Verdict

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Music may be the healing force of the universe but it’s not helping scheduled guest Gareth Lockrane tonight – he’s off with a heavy dose of winter flu. Fortunately, Tori Freestone is on hand, stepping in at very short notice. This isn’t the sort of gig you can casually dep, either. All the compositions are originals from the drummer/leader, treading the boundaries between jazz, fusion and post-rock, and the trio’s other members are not the sort to play things safe. The set opens with Traveller’ from Asaf’s most recent release, which he dedicates to that mainstay of the touring musician, the Travelodge hotel. Over a shimmering 5/4 ride cymbal pulse, with Kevin Glasgow on 6-string bass and John Turville on Nord keyboard creating a sonic wash, Freestone confidently launches into an extended exploration on flute. Supported by Sirkis’ ebbing and surging polyrhythms, she take flight into a dazzling solo, which Turville matches on keys.

Meditation’ explores similar territory; a chain of plangent chords over a straight-eighths pulse, topped by a spare melody on flute, establishing a mood reminiscent of the very earliest editions of Return To Forever. Turville’s choice of sound pays tribute to the enduring appeal of the chorus-effected Fender Rhodes. Lady Of The Lake’ starts with an utterly idiosyncratic introduction from Kevin Glasgow, exploring the outer reaches of harmonic and atonal patterns, and showcasing his delicate touch, clear ringing tone and unique imagination. His accompaniment by contrast is sparing, staying in the low register and giving Sirkis plenty of space to operate.

Outstanding as all the players are, it’s the drummer’s gig. His control over his instrument is awesome; he seems to get a dynamic into every phrase, constantly modulating his attack, so that he coaxes an utterly distinctive personal sound out of the Verdict’s venerable house kit. His empathy with the soloists is uncanny; sometimes matching their exact phrase, no matter how it cuts across the pulse, anticipating and supporting their every move. Life itself’ (dedicated to the M6 motorway) features a relentless 7-beat ostinato that allows him to subdivide and subdivide again, building up into a mountainous groove that erupts into a Vesuvius of a solo.

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Elsewhere Shepherds Stories’ from the eponymous album inspires a real tour de force from Turville, underpinned by Sirkis’ ceaseless flow. Kevin Glasgow amazes again with another solo that demonstrates his legato touch, which coupled with his speed and fluency and his unorthodox ear for harmony recall Allan Holdsworth’s guitar style. Together’ gives Freestone a feature on deep-toned alto flute and ‘Scenes from a Polish Wood’ brings forth a torrent of musical invention from all. Sirkis plays with his head thrown back, a picture of total immersion in the music, and the mood onstage is relaxed and playful, belying the rather sombre cast of the compositions.

Demands for an encore lead to an unexpected rendition of Sam River’s Beatrice’; it’s a pleasant contrast to hear Turville on piano as his electric keyboard sound sometimes suffered from a lack of definition that undermined its impact over the course of the evening. Freestone is a natural fit for this band of highly idiosyncratic players; let’s hope more collaborations lie ahead.

      Eddie Myer

      Photos by Rachel Zhang