Originally from Greece, guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos has left his mark across Europe and beyond, often working with the likes of Asaf Sirkis, drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband and prog/jazz stalwart John Etheridge. He’s stayed busy as both a sideman and a leader, appearing internationally in concert and on record. His 2006 debut as leader, Wait for Dusk, is a fair indicator of his technical prowess and improvisational skill. His 2010 release Archipelagos was full of surprises, including slide guitar effects and composition juxtaposed with improvisation in a unique way.
The latest is titled In the North, recorded in Sweden and features Orjan Hulten (saxophone), Palle Sollinger (bass), and Fredrik Rundqvist (drums). Tassos relocated from London to Stockholm in 2013 after being in England for a dozen years. This move seems to have added yet another element of surprise to his overall sound.
This new climate with new collaborators seems like, if not a shot in the arm, then a positive change in direction. The eclecticism of the varied influences of the group shines through, and suggests rock and world music in places, alongside the clear focus on what most of the world calls modern jazz. Make no mistake though; Tassos is no music school pencil-neck. The guy has serious feel and deserves any support.
Kicking off In the North is Waterfall, with a sax-driven melody that helps bring the song title to life. You might find yourself wondering who the keyboardist is weaving around the saxophone, until you realize it’s Tassos and a guitar.
While Emerald Blues might perhaps suffer from too much reverb on the percussion, it’s one of those surprises that makes this album great. An honest rural feel, like maybe Frisell or Kimock, the twang factor is enough to allow this track to really stand out.
By Way of Fire reveals guitar and sax unison lines that are impeccably executed, complete with subtle inflections and a certain harmonic ingenuity present in Tassos’ writing. The band does an excellent job of supporting one another here, with the result being each member contributing to the mix without fear or hesitation, with the added bonus of being able to shine along the way.
Friday Frolics provides more unison playing and a melody that resonates; a very hip arrangement that feels both cozy and edgy. The playing here is a great example of the emotive and impactful stuff that most of us look for in the music we consume.
Downfall Monologue is a change of pace, a dramatic narrative of sorts, indicative in the naming of the tune. The ambience Tassos and the band creates is cinema soundtrack-worthy. The lush chords and chromatic sax work combine to propel this tune to being perhaps the centerpiece of the album.
Rundqvist seems to be having a great time as he navigates the moods of Underground. The final track, Old Demons, is a somewhat angular reflection, with suspended chords providing a certain tension that is frankly exhilarating upon first listening.
There’s a lot to absorb here, and repeated listening of this recording reveals so much that appears to be new each time. That’s a rare thing; a surprise even.