Review: Stefanos Tsourelis Trio

Nigel Jarrett gets himself clued up at Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny, as the club presents a gig with sometimes Greek and Middle Eastern overtones

The Greek guitarist Stefanos Tsourelis (pictured right and below left) will probably forgive me for admitting that before this gig I'd never heard of him. I'd heard of the oud, which on this occasion he doubled with an electro-acoustic Takamine guitar.

Typical of so much contemporary recorded music, his trio's debut CD (Native Speaker, alongside the drummer and percussionist Eric Ford and the bassist Dave Jones) contains no information about the man himself.

If I hadn't heard of Stefanos, guitarists Mike Outram and Phil Robson certainly had. Outram was one of his teachers in Britain after he had studied and become expert on the guitar and the oud in Thessaloniki and played club dates across Greece as a professional.

After relocating to London in 2005, he studied at the London Guitar Institute, where he was mentored by Shaun Baxter and John Wheatcroft as well as Outram. Despite this Abergavenny date, and presumably others outside the capital, Tsourelis might safely be described as London-centric. Perhaps I should catch the train to Paddington more.

His influences are clearly McLaughlin, Hendrix, Metheny and that crowd, though a keen ear will pick up hints of others, such as Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. He has a fondness for block-chord melodic lines as well as finger-blurring scorchers, the latter mostly an advertisement. But what of the oud, a short-necked, lute-like instrument whose agreeable tones infuse music across the eastern Mediterranean?

Tsourelis plays the oud in the spirit of the improvisations (taqsims) associated with it and has hit on a way of combining both it and the guitar in terms of their personalities and potentialities. Its sound is unmistakeably geographical. At Abergavenny, Tsourelis clearly meant it to register with his audience as Greek, though not associated with the kind of music played for taverna dancing by tourists.

The CD consists of Tsourelis originals, which at Abergavenny comprised a heady mixture of styles and cross-genre excursions, including ballads and other meditations and ratcheted-up shredders which drummer Eric Ford took to as only a kit percussionist can who has adapted his armoury with mini-cymbals, foot-pedalled cow bells and the like, all the better to whack everything at gathering speeds in the manner of Clive Deamer, but with a little more finesse. These were always interesting, with space for truncated Ford solos and meaningful, if at first tentative, contributions from Kevin Glasgow on six-string bass.

Tsourelis said Glasgow was a player to watch; most would have agreed. Glasgow is not on the CD (Ford is) but the Abergavenny threesome sounded as though they'd been playing together for years. I'd heard of Ford by word-of-mouth and Glasgow – he's performed with Tommy Smith, Asaf Sirkis and Nicolas Meier – by association.

Not for a while have I been regaled with an admixture of musical styles and influences that worked so well in the interests of what we understand as jazz. It's not what the oud can do for jazz, as it were, but what jazz can do for the oud. Or vice versa.

Other clubs should book Tsourelis and Co. They won't regret it.

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