When my personal all-time favorite drummer name-checks someone I’m only recently learning about as one of his favorite drummers, I have no choice but to pay attention.
And this is one of two ways I learned about Asaf Sirkis.
The first way came three or so years ago by way of my friend and owner of MoonJune Records, Leonardo Pavkovic. He would send me music for review or pleasure, and I kept seeing a familiar name playing drums. Asaf, a native of Israel, seemed to keep finding himself in the midst of various forms of improvisational fusion.
I love a lot of drummers, but when pressed to name my favorite, I choose Bill Bruford for his versatility and ability to keep the musicians in his bands slightly off-balance. Bruford was an innovator even as he tried to look like he wasn’t innovating. So when he chose to retire from active drumming, I found myself trying to fill a Bruford-sized hole in my musical world.
Funnily enough, my first impression of Asaf’s playing was that he reminded me of Bruford. Even in the realm of wild improv or aggressive fusion, Asaf seemed to play above the fray with the feel and swing of a jazz drummer. Just like Bruford. When I saw him on video, I saw an air of effortless effort. Things were happening all around him, but Asaf barely seemed to break a sweat. Just like Bruford. And when I finally saw him on video playing in a jazz trio, his same sound fit the music like a glove. Asaf never needed to change his approach. He was already there. Just like Bruford.
So, when I learned that Bruford named Asaf as one of his favorites, I was all in on Asaf.
Still, Asaf is NOT Bill Bruford. While he lives in England, Asaf brought with him the sum of all his musical influences from throughout the Middle East and India, among many other regions. No doubt this is one of the reasons he can easily fit himself into so many different musical contexts. He already speaks just about any musical language placed before him.
In that way, Asaf reminds me of keyboardist Bernie Worrell (whose biography I’m currently writing). There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as genre for Asaf’s music. He just plays in such a way that what he does fits, no matter what. Bernie did the same thing!
Even as musical chaos swirls around him, Asaf can find a way to make it swing. If the music being made confuses you, all you have to do was go back to Asaf, and everything would fall back into place. This is really one of the most important things one can ask from a drummer — be the music’s foundation, even as you choose to alter your position within the mix. In that way, he’s very unlike Bruford.
Versatility of this order makes it only natural for Asaf to fit in perfectly with artists like guitarist Mark Wingfield, U8 touch guitarist Markus Reuter, keyboardist Dwiki Dharmarwan, or vocalist Sylwia Bialas (who also happens to be his domestic partner). Asaf is a context drummer. And that might be more meaningful than just about anything in music.
Asaf and I have been missing each other for quite some time. I joked with him that trying to pin down a musician for an interview can be like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. He laughed, but he also didn’t disagree. Few things are better than talking to a musician who’s happy to be part of the interview. That’s exactly what I got from Asaf. He is warm and affable, and that’s more than enough to go on.
So I offer a sincere thank you to Asaf Sirkis for participating in this CirdecSongs Interview.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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