CD REVIEW: Tassos Spiliotopoulos - In the North

Tassos Spiliotopoulos - In the North
(Anelia Records. ACD002. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

There’s a sense of needing to break through the surface of electric guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos' new release, In the North, to fully appreciate its harmonic/melodic depth and the diversity of its carefully-balanced instrumental weave.

As sideman and leader, Athens-born Spiliotopoulos' twelve-year career in London found him working and recording with jazz luminaries including Kenny Wheeler, John Etheridge, Gary Husband and John Parricelli; and moving on, in 2013, to his new base of Stockholm – where "the environment seemed right for reflection and exploration" – he formed this current quartet with Örjan Hultén (saxophone), Palle Sollinger (bass) and Fredrik Rundqvist (drums).

The magic of this partnership is that, though these are seemingly standard voicings, the variety of timbres and rhythms achieved hold the attention throughout its fifty-five minutes. Spiliotopoulos was a prominent melodicist in Asaf Sirkis' predominantly guitar/bass/drums outing, Shepherd's Stories – but here, he goes a step further, his unison pairing with saxophonist Örjan Hulténis frequently offering a fine, integrated resonance. Certainly don't make the mistake of a cursory, background listen – arising from eclectic influences, this is original music for concentration, absorption and enjoyment.

Eight expansive tracks are announced with the airy luminosity of Waterfall – the first of many, memorable theme-tune-like guitar/sax melodies, its implied freedom encourages buoyant, flowing improvisations enhanced by the vitalized, splashing percussion of Fredrik Rundqvist. Emerald Blues' deep, country/rock guitar enjoys beautifully emotive, diminished harmonies (the kind of detail which elevates Spiliotopoulos' writing above simple grooving); and in brooding By Way of Fire, his characteristically lithe technique, with its lush tonal texture, seems to traverse the majority of the fretboard.

Mysterious, inflected Ποιμενικóν (Shepherd's Minor) hints at the guitarist's Greek origins, his chordal and solo lines intertwining deliciously with Hultén's alto over Palle Sollinger's European folk-dancing bass; and Friday Frolics' catchy, bursting energy is maintained by that strong, melodic sax/guitar combination and Spiliotopoulos' own extended extemporisations – an especially pleasing, slick jazz/rock episode.

Downfall Monologue's pensive, TV-drama feel echoes to inventive chordal atmospheres and Sollinger's clear double bass improv, intensified by Hultén's climbing sax chromaticism; and by now, it's evident that, as a composer, Spiliotopoulos ingests so many musical influences, yet possesses the ability to shape a cohesive quartet. His major/minor motifs in Underground meld securely with its bass and drum colour, Hultén clearly enjoying the spotlight on his soaring fluidity; and Old Demons is a particularly strong curtain call (perhaps an album highlight), the guitarist's initial broken chords recalling Genesis/Steve Hackett before culminating in sustained, overdriven, cinemascope splendour.

Tassos Spiliotopoulos embraces his instrument so imaginatively, and appears to have found the perfect team to realise his multi-faceted approach to composition and performance. Focus in – it's a great repeat-listen.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site

In the North is released today 10th April. Anelia Records website

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