by Ian Mann
March 08, 2018
An intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos.
Maciek Pysz & Daniele di Bonaventura
(Caligola Records 2232)
Originally from Poland guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz is now based in London and has become a much loved figure on the UK jazz scene. He has toured widely with his trio featuring the Russian born double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born master drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis.
The trio have recorded two albums “Insight” (2013) and “A Journey” (2015). The latter saw the core trio joined by guest artist Daniele Di Bonaventura, a pianist and bandoneon player from Italy whose contribution ensured a radical alteration to the group sound.
The partnership between Pysz and di Bonaventura has continued to flourish, resulting in this duo recording for the Italian Caligola record label. In the wake of di Bonaventura’s appearance on “ A Journey” the two musicians performed a duo set at the Palm Jazz Festival in Pysz’s native Poland in 2016 following which they decided to tour further, including an EFG London Jazz Festival appearance in 2017, and to record in this format.
The exposed setting of the duo is familiar territory for both these artists. In 2017 Pysz released “London Stories”, a duo recording made with his fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona, another Italian musician and the co-composer of some of the pieces on Pysz’s two trio albums. Pysz has also performed in a duo with the British pianist Ivo Neame, with whom he undertook a short tour of the UK. My review of their performance in September 2016 can be read here;
Unfortunately the Pysz / Neame duo proved to be short lived and never got to the recording stage.
Pysz has also collaborated in other contexts with saxophonist Julian Costello, pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi, cellist Shirley Smart, saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Alex Stuart and vocalist Monika Lidke.
For his part di Bonaventura has been one half of a long running duo with Sicilian born trumpeter and flugel horn player Paolo Fresu with whom he recorded the ECM albums “Mistico Mediterraneo” (2010) and “In Maggiore” (2015). The first of these also featured the Corsican vocal group A Filetta, inviting comparisons with other ECM projects such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble and trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s alliance with Trio Mediaeval.
dI Bonaventura has also collaborated widely with musicians from Italy and beyond, too many to list comprehensively here but including such internationally known names as trumpeter Enrico Rava, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Oliver Lake, Greg Osby David Murray and Tim Garland, pianists Rita Marcotulli and Joanne Brackeen, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Lenny White.
Pysz and di Bonaventura are united by a love of folk melodies, tango music, film soundtracks and travel. These things inform the writing on “Coming Home”, a collection of eleven original compositions with Pysz contributing six pieces and di Bonaventura four. There is also a brief piece credited to both musicians. Pysz plays both acoustic and electric guitars but favours an acoustic guitar sound that exhibits the acknowledged influence of the great guitarist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner. di Bonaventura moves between piano and bandoneon, a concertina like instrument that originated in Germany but which is most closely associated with Argentina and tango music. Artists such as di Bonaventura and the great Argentinian virtuoso Dino Saluzzi have helped to transform it into a convincing and effective jazz solo instrument. di Bonaventura is regarded as one of the leading exponents of the bandoneon in Europe.
The album commences with “Lights”, written by Pysz and featuring the evocative sounds of acoustic guitar and bandoneon, the two instruments intertwining softly and subtly on this atmospheric opener. As with much of Pysz’s work there’s a genuinely cinematic atmosphere and a real sense of place.
“Blue Tango”, also written by Pysz, sees di Bonaventura moving to piano. This alternating between instruments helps to give the album variety, particularly in terms of colour and texture. The Italian is also a highly accomplished pianist and his chemistry with Pysz is just as palpable on this instrument. There’s a spaciousness and elegance about the performance as the two musicians trade phrases, seamlessly handing over the baton from one to another.
Di Bonaventura’s first contribution with the pen is “Nadir” which raises the energy levels with its introduction featuring the body of Pysz’s acoustic guitar deployed as a form of percussion. The composer plays bandoeneon, combining well with the guitarist in a series of adventurous exchanges that still retain the essential melancholy of tango.
Pysz takes up the compositional reins again for “Streets” which again features the combination of acoustic guitar and bandoneon. Pysz has a Metheny like gift for melody and many of his tunes are simply gorgeous, including this intimate, atmospheric piece which conjures up the gently melancholic warmth of a street corner café on the corner of a rain soaked street.
“Intro” is a brief, jointly credited prelude to di Bonaventura’s composition “Tango”. On scanning the cover I’d assumed this to be a spontaneous improvisation but the melodiousness and delicacy of this delightful acoustic guitar / piano duet suggests otherwise.
“Intro” segues almost directly into “Tango” which retains the acoustic guitar / piano configuration. Now it’s the turn of di Bonaventura to demonstrate his eye and ear for a beautiful melody. This is an elegant, almost stately, duo performance, initially paced by di Bonaventura’s unhurried piano and featuring Pysz’s sensitive guitar picking. Subsequently the piano come to the fore, still relaxed and melodic and supported by Pysz’s sympathetic guitar chording.
Also by di Bonaventura “Paquito” brings another injection of pace and energy with the composer switching to bandoneon for a vigorous series of exchanges featuring tautly picked and strummed acoustic guitar and darting, scurrying bandoneon lines, played by di Bonaventura with great virtuosity. There’s a rhythmic, percussive feel about the piece that is almost funky at times.
“Tree”, written by Pysz, is more serene and features his unaccompanied acoustic guitar on the intro, subsequently joined by di Bonaventura’s bandoneon, his playing now more measured, solemn and atmospheric. There’s even a soupçon of electric guitar at
one point on this beautifully structured and textured duet.
“I Gazzillori” is a charming waltz written by di Bonaventura that again features the combination of bandoneon and acoustic guitar. The duo give a wonderfully relaxed performance as they trade ideas and, as Peter Jones suggests in his review of the album for London Jazz News, one can actually imagine this piece, plus the earlier “Paquito”, being danced to.
Pysz’s “More & More” represents the final duet for acoustic guitar and piano and it’s a typically elegant performance that again showcases the composer’s melodic and story telling gifts. The performances by both musicians are eloquent but unhurried and make effective use of space in a way that Towner, a gifted performer on both guitar and piano, would surely appreciate.
The album concludes with the title track which enhances the duo’s sound with a range of judiciously deployed electronic effects. Pysz is on electric guitar but the sound of di Bonaventura’s bandoneon also appears to be treated. As a result there’s a spacey, ethereal quality to the music that proves to be both effective and beautiful. If the Pink Floyd played tango it might sound something like this.
“Coming Home” is an intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos. There’s nothing show-offy about the playing of either musician yet both Pysz and di Bonaventura, particularly on bandoneon, are superb technicians and the rapport between them is apparent throughout the album with no one party predominating.
The album was recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy with the acclaimed Stefano Amerio engineering. However as Peter Jones points out Amerio doesn’t clean the sound up too much. The listener can hear the sound of Pysz’s hands on the strings and the wheeze of the bellows and clicking of the buttons on di Bonaventura’s bandoneon. Rather like Kit Downes’ recent
pipe organ recordings these ‘extraneous’ sounds actually serve to give the music a greater degree warmth and humanity.
“Coming Home” is a masterful duo recording with much to recommend it, although personally speaking I still prefer Pysz’s playing in the more expansive environment of a trio or quartet. But this is a fine album nevertheless.
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