Eyal Maoz and Asaf Sirkis share a long history of collaboration. Beginning at school in their hometown of Rehovot, Israel, their friendship and musical association continued through numerous bands in Israel and has persevered despite the fact that they eventually both emigrated and now live on different sides of the Atlantic, becoming mainstays of the creative music scenes of London (Sirkis) and New York (Maoz). Individually, Maoz leads a number of bands in New York, Israel, and Italy, exploring new ideas from Jewish progressive rock to Eastern European music to free jazz, while Sirkis has combined his drums with church organs and is an in-demand sideman in various jazz bands. Their joint work has spanned styles from rock to jazz to free improvisation, leading bands as well as accompanying others.
This plethora of influences and experiences now comes to creative fruition in their duo. Combining composition and improvisation, their intuitive rapport and mutual understanding guides the way through a musical conversation full of unexpected twists and turns and sudden bursts of color and energy, yet never losing its emotional depth and logical coherence.
Improvised music has over the past decades become a genre unto itself, divided into many aesthetic and ideological camps and cliques, each with their own sets of habits and rules, leading to much selfconsciousness and denial of possibilities. Eclecticism and playfulness, officially positive traits in jazz-derived musics, are often frowned upon; predictability has taken hold in an area of music originally intended to facilitate the unpredicatble and the escape from limitations imposed by preconception.
Maoz and Sirkis fearlessly subvert these tendencies. Their music flirts with abstract free improvisation and with jazz-rock fusion, with straight-ahead jazz and even with reggae. Yet they never settle into a style, staying firmly within their own orbit. They survey the landscape of post-jazz possibilities from the viewpoint of outsiders, albeit highly skilled ones. They do not play ideology; they play music. And in so doing, they prove that improvised music can be simultaneously challenging and accessible, thoughtful and entertaining.
Composed themes serve as conceptual nuclei for their unencumbered dialogue, much like an initial statement can be the launching pad for a conversation. But it is in the discussion of these themes, channeled through the languages of guitar and drums, that the instinctive connection between these two musical friends becomes tangible to the listener. They speak through their instruments, always pushing the limits of language, yet never deconstructing it. They have nothing to prove, but they have lots to share. In the opening track, “Reggae”, they recognizably flirt with the well-known Jamaican style, but obviously this isn’t a conversation in reggae; it is a discourse “à propos reggae”. “Strip” contains unexpected changes of pace and feel, keeping listeners on their toes while sending them a playful smile. “Miniature” opens the door to sudden lyric beauty. New ideas lurk behind every curve and bend of this music; new musical territory is reached and explored, but while this is a challenging undertaking, Maoz and Sirkis never take themselves too seriously, and thus avoid the pitfall of pretention.
The result is an album full of musical variety which nevertheless remains cohesive; a dialogue that may wander about to include many side-stories and possibilities, but never loses its sense of direction. Like a good novel, it has its inner life, and brings life to the listener’s soul.