REVIEW: Stefanos Tsourelis Acoustic Trio at the Bull’s Head in Barnes, SW13

L-R: Stefanos Tsourelis, Dave Jones, Eric Ford


Stefanos Tsourelis Acoustic Trio
(Bull’s Head, Barnes Wed. 8th Feb. 2017. Review by Alison Bentley)

The delicate fretwork on Stefanos Tsourelis’ oud made it look too fragile for a stage: his semi-acoustic guitar was on a stand, while the oud was comfortably resting in an amp bag. Tsourelis comes from Greece and studied its music, as well as jazz and rock. This was his acoustic trio, with London’s Dave Jones on fretless bass and Eric Ford on drums.

Nostalgia opened on guitar, simple chords suddenly awoken by incredibly fast runs in unison with the bass- one of the amazing variety of timbres in the trio. One of Tsourelis’ heroes is John McLaughlin (and his 80s/90s trios with Trilok Gurtu) and you could hear a strong influence. Ford’s sensitive cymbal work was complex, tiny beats scattered between the strokes of the cowbell, often following the rhythm of the melodies. The full drum sound allowed guitar and bass to play in unison without the sense of anything missing. The piece moved organically through various sections: spiky, staccato bass with Ford on cajón (which at times sounded like tablas); a funky, gentle sound behind the guitar solo.

The Desert and Mystery Blues featured the oud, not an instrument you often hear in jazz, and certainly not in a small club. The wooden tuning pegs creaked as he tuned it, the double strings giving a kind of aura to the tone. The Desert opened like an Arabic maqam, the audience whooping at the complex circular bass/oud riffs. At times they almost veered into (gentle) heavy rock, the way Dhafer Youssef can. There were time signatures to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the gig. (Here 6/8, then 7/8- Tsourelis studied Greek lute, and its rhythms, in Greece before being introduced to the oud by his teacher.) There was a wonderful sense of the trio grooving together very intuitively- although Tsourelis had written the tunes, he told us, he wanted us to know how much Jones and Ford had contributed to the arrangements. Mystery Blues was a minor blues, the oud full of blue notes, the bass solo harmonising with and pulling against its note bends. Jan’s Tune had a funky feel, and a sense of power reined in to suit the room’s intimacy. The guitar solo had Hendrix overtones, with superb slap bass, Jones reaching down to the bottom of his 5th string. Ford’s solo had subtle fluttering of brushes on snare. Calm Sea was written before Tsourelis came to London (in 2005 to study at the London Guitar Institute.) The gorgeous chord melody head and Metheny-esque solo lulled us, the repeated phrases recurring like waves. Some of Kevin Eubanks’ trio work with Dave Holland came to mind.

Interplay was moody and minor, with fast, rising, almost flamenco riffs caught in the net of the spacey chords. Phrygian Major, appropriately named after a Greek scale, opened with rocky virtuosity, Ford playing cajón and hi-hat simultaneously. Spancil Hill, an Irish tune, was the only one not written by Tsourelis, and the sweet melody nestled among oriental trills. Jones’ solo was beautifully melodic as well as percussive. In The Living Gardens, Ford’s mallets on tiny splash cymbals were like the sound of the sea in a shell around the sweet major chords, the 5/8 melodies tumbling over each other to reach the bottom and climb back up again. They fell into the free harmonics of Square, Jones pulling around the already fluid time, then into an Arabic-influenced rocky groove. The encore El Divo was more dancey, (Tsourelis: ‘A hip tune, a bit different from the rest.’) with perhaps more of a Scofield influence- it ended on a sizzling drum solo and a huge roar of appreciation from the audience.

The Trio have a new album coming out next year (Native Speaker) Their mix of jazz and rock with Oriental and Greek influences, combined with sensitive dynamics and dizzying arrangements, make it something to look forward to.

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