by Ian Mann
September 26, 2016
An excellent showing from Neame and Pysz, and I'm certain that their already impressive rapport will continue to develop.
Ivo Neame and Maciek Pysz Duo, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 24/09/2016.
Pianist Ivo Neame and guitarist Maciek Pysz have both been regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years.
Neame is probably best known as one third of the Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis, one of THE jazz success stories of the past decade and a group that has accrued a large and loyal following in the UK, Europe and even the US. Currently he is also a member of the stellar international quartet led by Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset.
But Neame is also a successful band-leader in his own right who has recorded a series of high quality solo albums in different formats ranging from trio through quintet to octet. He has also been a member of the acclaimed Kairos 4tet led by saxophonist and composer Adam Waldmann and of Fringe Magnetic, the eclectic large(ish) ensemble led by trumpeter Rory Simmons. In addition the prolific and in demand Neame has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Josh Arcoleo and Trish Clowes, trumpeter Andre Canniere, guitarist Ant Law, vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Kaz Simmons and Elisa Caleb, drummer Dave Hamblett and bassists Mick Coady and Dave Manington among others.
The Polish born Pysz is now based in London from where he leads an outstanding international trio featuring the talents of Russian bassist Yuri Golubev and Israeli drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis. The trio’s latest recording, “A Journey”, includes guest contributions from the Italian musician Daniele di Bonaventura on both bandoneon and piano. Pysz has also performed with di Bonantura’s compatriot the pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi and with cellist Shirley Smart, saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Alex Stuart and vocalist Monika Lidke. He has also worked extensively in France and Italy, his collaborators including drummer and band-leader Romain Dravet, violinist Francois Arnaud and fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona.
The pairing of Neame and Pysz in this new duo project represents something fresh, exciting and different for both musicians. United by a shared love of the music of the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal the duo’s repertoire includes versions of several classic Pascoal compositions, a Ralph Towner tune and new arrangements of pieces from the books of both Pysz and Neame. The duo are yet to record but a studio date has been set to follow a short four date tour which will include a performance at North London’s Vortex Jazz Club plus a later EFG London Jazz Festival appearance.
On the face of it the intimate setting of the Arena Theatre with its excellent acoustics and beautiful grand piano seemed to represent the ideal venue for the duo’s first ever public performance. Certainly the sound was good and the playing, as one would expect from musicians of this calibre, superb. The only thing that was missing was the audience, a crowd of around thirty wasn’t really sufficient to give an evening of excellent music making the feel of an ‘EVENT’. Falling audience numbers are something of a concern for Jazz@Wolverhampton, now in its fourth season, especially after such a buoyant start back in 2013. Neame’s Phronesis colleague Jasper Hoiby suffered a similar fate back in April with a disappointing attendance for the trio Malija (Hoiby plus saxophonist Mark Lockheart and pianist Liam Noble). One hopes that the trend will be reversed for the visit of the new look, five piece Impossible Gentlemen in October.
I’ve voiced my concerns about the audience figures at the Arena previously and I don’t wish to dwell on the negatives so on with the music which was excellent.
As promised the duo started with a Hermeto Pascoal tune, but as I don’t speak Portuguese I’m not going to hazard a guess at the title. It was introduced by a passage of solo guitar from Pysz that saw him manipulating his sound via the use of foot pedals and other electronic devices in a manner that briefly reminded me of Bill Frisell. Atmospheric and effective as this was it was hardly typical of Pysz’s contribution overall with the guitarist largely adopting a semi-acoustic sound more in keeping with that of his acknowledged influences Ralph Towner and Al DiMeola. Once Neame had joined the proceedings the duo settled down and a distinctive shared sound began to emerge with the two protagonists seamlessly moving between the roles of soloist and accompanist, Pysz switching from agile solo picking to sympathetic chording and comping in the blink of an eye with Neame deftly returning the compliment at the piano. All the time the essential joyousness and exuberance of Pascoal’s highly melodic writing shone through.
Pysz’s “Steps Of Time” was sourced from his 2013 trio “Insight” and began in a more reflective manner with the composer’s elegant Towner-esque guitar sketching the melody. As the music gathered momentum Pysz’s insistent top string riffing provided the backdrop for a tightly coiled piano solo as Neame gradually developed his ideas. It was an arrangement that was very different from the recorded version with its features for Golubev’s bowed bass and Sirkis’ exotic percussive set up.
Pascoal recently celebrated his 80th birthday and continues to tour the world playing his extraordinary music. Neame was recently part of the Anglo-Brazilian big band that performed in London during one of Pascoal’s recent visits to Britain. Introducing the tune “Jegue” (Portuguese for ‘horse’) Neame recounted the tale of Pascoal playing a solo by blowing into the spout of a kettle -it’s a trick that’s been in his repertoire for some time- before tipping the contents of said kettle over his head, regardless of the all the wires and electronics on the stage. As for the tune itself Neame’s dense, percussive piano patterns seemed to mimic the sound of hoof beats as Pysz’s guitar rode airily above. Subsequently the roles were reversed with the guitarist deploying extended techniques and using the body of his instrument as a percussive device as Neame revelled in the role of soloist.
Neame’s own “En Ma” was inspired by the poetry of the Chilean born poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda (1904-73) with the pianist taking the rhythms of Neruda’s words and setting them to music to create a wordless song, exquisitely played here by the duo and representing a particularly fine example of the way in which the roles of soloist and accompanist were shared throughout the evening.
Time just seemed to fly by in an absorbing forty five minute first set which concluded with an arrangement of Pysz’s “Those Days”, another tune sourced from his début trio album “Insight”. With its themes of nostalgia and homesickness this was an intensely melodic and romantic piece that nevertheless included some impressively virtuoso playing from its composer as he shared the solos with the consistently impressive Neame.
The second set commenced with another Pysz original, this time sourced from the “A Journey” album. Co-written by Pysz and Gianluca Corona this composition developed from Neame’s opening interior piano scrabblings to embrace a joyous melodicism with Pysz’s dazzling guitar solo incorporating both tango and flamenco flourishes.
Next came the Neame original “Free At Last”, a tune dating back to 2009 and the pianist’s second solo album “Caught In The Light Of Day”. Introducing the piece Neame told the tale of a nightmare journey to the studio as a passenger in a car driven by bassist Jasper Hoiby. Nobody in the audience seemed to be the least bit surprised to hear that Jasper is a terrible driver! The tune itself proved to be one of Neame’s most invigorating and exuberant pieces, its joyousness totally in keeping with the spirit of Hermeto Pascoal.
Pysz has always expressed a deep admiration for the music of guitarist, pianist and composer Ralph Towner and the album “A Journey” contained an arrangement of “Innocente”, a tune that Towner wrote for the group Oregon and their album “Ecotopia”. Tonight the duo chose to cover Towner’s beautiful and atmospheric “Beneath An Evening Sky” from the composer’s 1979 solo album “Old Friends, New Friends”. This. began with a suitably ‘Towner-esque’ passage of solo acoustic guitar before Neame picked out the familiar melody on piano and entered into a typically lucid dialogue with Pysz.
Also from the “A Journey” album the Pysz original “Water Streets” was inspired by a visit to Venice and the unique architecture of that city. This arrangement delighted with its melodic interchanges between Pysz and Neame plus the stunning unison passages that the duo delivered in the closing stages of the tune.
The duo now returned to the repertoire of Hermeto Pascoal. Neame had already spoken of the maverick Brazilian composer’s well publicised eccentricities – remember the kettle story! Long before sampling became fashionable Pascoal was integrating ‘found sounds’ into his music, often the noises made by farm animals such as pigs and chickens. For this piece Neame unfolded a voluminous sheet of bewilderingly complex looking music but the sound of this playful tune was one of pure joy, the playfulness enhanced by the presence of the duo’s special guest, a toy plastic pig dubbed ‘Porky’ manipulated by Neame which enhanced the core sound of guitar and piano with an amusing series of grunts, squeaks and squeals. You just had to laugh at the sheer surrealism of it all – now you know where Loose Tubes got it from!
The evening concluded with a Neame composition originally written for the Phronesis repertoire. “Song For Lost Nomads” originally appeared on the 2014 Phronesis album “Life To Everything” and is a piece that combines strong melodies with a high degree of rhythmic and harmonic invention. Here an extended solo piano introduction featured Neame’s powerful left hand figures replicating Hoiby’s bass lines as he, and subsequently Pysz, improvised around the folk inspired melody.
The reaction of the audience to this excellent music making was highly favourable but the small attendance ensured that an encore was never likely to be forthcoming which was a shame.
For me it was a particularly interesting performance as it was fascinating to compare the duo’s approach to Pascoal’s music with that of Huw Warren’s Trio Brasil (plus guest saxophonist Iain Ballamy) at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny some three weeks previously. But for all the differences the sheer wit, imagination and joyousness of Pascoal’s complex, sophisticated but unfailingly melodic writing consistently shone through. At eighty his influence on fellow musicians seems to be stronger and more relevant than ever.
For a first public outing this was an excellent showing from Neame and Pysz and I’m certain that their already impressive rapport will continue to develop, especially in better attended venues, one anticipates that their London shows will be rather better subscribed. The subsequent recording will also be very keenly awaited.
Further scheduled performances for the Ivo Neame and Maciek Pysz Duo are as follows;
12th October 2016 – The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London
13th November 2016 – The Forge, Camden Town, London (part of EFG London Jazz Festival)
16th December 2016 – Leicester Jazz House, Fraser Noble Hall, Leicester
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