Asaf Sirkis Trio/Tobias Delius Trio

The Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
The Ort Cafe, Balsall Heath, Birmingham

To get the most out of Birmingham’s Friday evening jazz offer you really need a car – or taxi fare.

Asaf Sirkis at The Red Lion (Photo © John Watson/

Asaf Sirkis at The Red Lion (Photo © John

I started out in the upstairs room of The Red Lion in Warstone Lane, with the friendly bunch from Birmingham Jazz, and the “stage” quarter of the room filled with the impressive drum kit of Asaf Sirkis, and the guitars, pedals and amps of bassist Kevin Glasgow and guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

They were mainly playing music from their latest CD, Shepherd’s Stories – well the latest from Sirkis and Spiliotopoulos; Glasgow has stepped in recently to replace Yaron Stavi, who is touring with Nigel Kennedy – and very impressive it was too.  It’s a band of melodicists – to my ears even Sirkis seems to be playing tunes – and players whose considerable technical prowess never feels like it is being used to show off, but for the sake of the music.

Spiliotopoulos was particularly forceful on Meditation, while Gibson turned in an extraordinary solo using both hands tapping on the fretboard of his six-string bass during Dream Sister.

Then, while the rest of the crowd was enjoying the delights of the half-time raffle it was back to the car and heading south to hear Tobias Delius, the British-born tenor player and clarinettist now based in The Netherlands, together with Ollie Brice on double bass and Miles Levin on drums.

Where the jazz of the Sirkis Trio is a strongly-composed, modern rock-fusion, complete with up-to-date technology – headless electric guitar, tone pedals plugged in, and the kind of timbres inconceivable without the electric manipulation of sound, Delius and crew play an acoustic (well, Brice had an amp, but you know what I mean) unrehearsed, free jazz. It felt like moving from a high-tech age to a more primitive time.

This is not to suggest that the music was in any way less sophisticated in its conception or execution at The Ort. Delius has a hugely appealing persona – a balding bear of a man speaking through his horns, telling us tragicomic stories, blustering, exclaiming, bellowing, then chattering almost inaudibly, squeaking with delight… all with boundless energy and an acute ear for the mood of his fellow players.

Brice and Levin (just in for this gig; the rest of the tour has Mark Sanders on drums) responded in similarly individual mode, and with the same mix of energy and sensitivity. They all looked and sounded like they were having a ball.

For the second set a second bear-like figure joined them from the audience: Paul Dunmall.

What a treat this was! And what complementary players Delius and Dunmall are. The similarities lie in their equal experience and facility in the free jazz area; the differences are a bit like comparing straight man and funny man in a double act. With Dunmall one takes delight in what he plays; with Delius one takes delight in how he sounds.

That’s a simplification, of course. In a world of players with a strong tone, Dunmall has a particularly centred and robust one. He can vary it when he chooses but mainly he plays with a relatively conventional sound, creating highly original and creative, completely cliché-free lines of improvisation. Delius plays some interesting lines, too, but mainly he plays with pops and gasps, overtones, double tones and all kinds of vocal inflections.

And they had a remarkable instinct for playing around one another, a dance that involved no treading on toes. A particularly fruitful and enthralling coming together.

This was a rich evening of music, indeed. I drove home exhausted – and musing on just wonderful it is that both these highly contrasting bands can unite under the overall banner with that word “jazz” emblazoned upon it.

  • Tobias Delius, with Ollie Brice and Mark Sanders, continues his tour over this weekend – details of other dates here.
  • And look out for Paul Dunmall at 60 – a special Jazzlines concert next month – details here.

Categories: Live review

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