by Ian Mann
February 14, 2017
Pysz and his quartet brought musical sunshine to Shrewsbury on the bitterest and rawest of winter days, continuing the brilliant start to 2017 at The Hive.
Maciek Pysz Quartet, The Hive Music and Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/02/2017.
Following a triumphant start to the 2017 programme with the January performance by saxophonist Tim Garland’s Electric Quartet promoters Shrewsbury Jazz Network were rewarded with another bumper audience turn out and another evening of excellent music from a new quartet led by the Polish born guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz.
Pysz has been based in London since 2003 and has established himself on the UK jazz scene as well as playing regularly in France. A self taught guitarist specialising on the acoustic version of the instrument his chief inspiration is Al Di Meola but he also cites the influence of fellow guitarists Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner and Bireli Lagrene plus the compositional methods of pianists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.
In 2013 Pysz released “Insight” (33 Jazz), his first full length album and a recording that was very well received by jazz commentators and audiences alike. “Insight” benefited enormously from the presence of two superlative musicians in the shapes of Russian double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born drummer and percussionist Asaf Sirkis.
Goloubev and Sirkis also appeared on 2015’s “A Journey”, a collection of original compositions by Pysz that saw the core trio augmented on a number of pieces by the Italian born pianist and bandoneon player Daniele di Bonaventura.
I was hugely impressed with both albums in terms of both the playing and the writing and have been fortunate enough to witness two separate performances by the trio of Pysz, Goloubev and Sirkis at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth. As these were informal ‘pub gigs’ I didn’t cover them for the Jazzmann although I have reviewed both of Pysz’s albums. More recently I enjoyed a duo performance by Pysz and pianist Ivo Neame (of Phronesis fame) at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. This is a recent pairing and the duo have not yet documented their music on disc but a review of the Wolverhampton performance can be found here;
The group that Pysz brought to Shrewsbury was a new quartet that retained the services of Goloubev on double bass and introduced a new drummer/percussionist in the shape of Eric Ford, a popular visitor to The Hive following previous performances at the venue with Partikel, of whom he is still a member, and guitarist Leo Appleyard’s quintet. Having seen Pysz perform in both duo and trio situations it was particularly interesting to see him playing as a member of a quartet with the addition of Julian Costello on tenor and soprano saxophones. Interestingly both Pysz and Ford play with Costello’s own quartet and a recording under the saxophonist’s leadership featuring his own compositions is due to be released later in 2017.
However tonight’s performance began in trio mode with Pysz, Goloubev and Ford performing “Amici”, a piece from the “Insight” album co-written by Pysz and the Italian guitarist Gianluca Corona, with whom the Pole sometimes performs as a duo. Despite his East European origins Pysz has a great affinity for the music of the Mediterranean and the warmth of his writing reflects this. His deployment of a semi-acoustic, nylon strung Godin guitar gives him a particularly distinctive sound although he sometimes supplements this with the judicious use of pedal generated electronic effects, as here. However the main memory I will draw from this performance of “Amici”, the title meaning “friends” in Italian, will be of Pysz’s fluent, well constructed, technically adept guitar solo and of the sympathetic support offered by Goloubev’s bass and Ford’s brushed drums with Goloubev also featuring as a soloist.
Costello was added to the group for “I Saw You Again”, a composition from Pysz’s second album “The Journey”. The combination of soprano saxophone and guitar was highly effective and solos came from Pysz, Goloubev and Costello, the latter adopting a warm, clarinet like tone on his soprano as Ford alternated between brushes and sticks on an episodic piece that also featured some exquisite interplay between Pysz and Costello. The recorded version features di Bonaventura on piano, therefore tonight’s interpretation was very different, but no less effective.
The tune “Those Days” appeared on Pysz’s first album and is another co-write, this time with Pysz’s friend and fellow guitarist Ryszard Graca. Tonight’s version was given a distinctly Moorish tinge thanks to the presence of Costello’s soprano and Ford’s use of cajon. The interplay between these two was particularly engrossing as was the subsequent dialogue between Pysz’s guitar and Goloubev’s bass. With his high levels of skill and extensive knowledge of world rhythms Ford is a natural fit for this group and an excellent replacement for Sirkis who is currently touring the UK with his own International Quartet featuring the Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas. A glance at Pysz’s website suggests that Ford is a permanent fixture in the group as Sirkis concentrates on his own projects.
One of the features of tonight’s performance was the breaking down of the group into smaller duo units, something briefly glimpsed during the performance of “Those Days”. From the first album “Lost In London” was a genuine duet between Pysz on guitar and Costello on soprano. With Pysz triggering an electronic drone effect the music was sometimes reminiscent of the music on Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s classic ECM album “Dis” as Costello’s keening soprano was complemented by Pysz’s cleanly picked guitar, his sound sometimes reminiscent of Ralph Towner, Garbarek’s collaborator on that record. But the lyrical, song like quality of Pysz’s tune ensured that this was no pastiche. Indeed “Lost In London” was originally conceived as a song with Sting as the putative vocalist and Pysz informed the audience that he is due to record a vocal version of the song with the jazz/soul singer Ola Onabule.
Pysz switched to an “air guitar” similar to the one deployed by Ant Law at last month’s Tim Garland gig for “Undeniable” (from “A Journey”) which closed a lengthy, but hugely enjoyable, first set. The change of instrument resulted in a harder edged, more obviously electric sound but one that was still warm in tone, more reminiscent now of Pat Metheny than of Towner. It was a sound that combined effectively with Costello’s tenor and with Ford’s bright and incisive cymbal work. The solos were more extrovert than previously with Costello going first on tenor followed by Pysz on guitar and a final drum feature from the effervescent Ford who again demonstrated an impressive blend of power, precision and flexibility. A great way to end an impressive first half.
Set two commenced with another piece from the “A Journey” album. Co-written by Pysz and Corona “Desert” was dedicated to the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia – interestingly Garland had covered de Lucia’s tune “Zyriab” at last month’s gig, implying that the Spaniard seems to be becoming something of a touchstone for contemporary jazz musicians. Tonight’s arrangement began with a duet between Pysz and Ford, the guitarist sometimes deploying extended techniques including striking the strings and using the body of the instrument as auxiliary percussion. Ford’s use of cajon also helped to give the piece an authentic flamenco flavour although the music later took a slightly more conventional turn as Ford concentrated on the traditional drum kit, complementing Pysz’s virtuoso soloing with some rapid fire drumming before entering into further dialogue with Costello’s tenor as part of another duo episode. This rousing start to the first half concluded with a final feature from Ford as the drummer threatened to steal the show.
Ralph Towner is perhaps the first name that springs into listener’s minds on hearing Pysz for the first time and indeed Pysz has a great respect for the American guitarist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, co-founder and mainstay of the group Oregon as well as being a highly prolific solo artist with ECM. “A Journey” contains a version of the Towner tune “Innocente” but tonight Pysz chose to play the beautiful Towner composition “Beneath an Evening Sky” from Towner’s 1979 album “Old Friends, New Friends”, which featured the late Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn. It was wonderful to hear this delightfully melodic and lovely piece again with Pysz displaying a Towner-like grace and elegance on guitar while Costello’s oboe like soprano was reminiscent of Paul McCandless, Towner’s colleague in Oregon. Something of Towner’s compositional gift has rubbed off on Pysz whose own writing is unfailingly melodic and frequently similarly beautiful.
Pysz turned to another “outside” composer for his duet with long standing collaborator Goloubev. The pair chose to play Joe Zawinul’s composition “Midnight Mood”, taking their inspiration from the version recorded by pianist Bill Evans. The classically trained Goloubev, once a member of the acclaimed chamber group the Moscow Soloists, is one of the most accomplished bass players on the planet, both with and without the bow. A brilliant musician his solos always command attention and he has recorded a duo album, “Reverie at Schloss Elmau”, for ACT with pianist Gwilym Simcock.
He has also appeared on albums by pianists John Law, Alex Hutton and others as well as leading his own projects. Goloubev’s unaccompanied bass opened the performance here and sometimes shared the melody with Pysz’s guitar, the two also sharing solos during the course of a quite exquisite duo performance.
From “A Journey”, an album inspired by Pysz’s travels around Europe, “Water Streets” was written following a visit to Venice. Here it was introduced by the trio before Costello’s sax took over the uplifting melody, dovetailing beautifully with Pysz’s guitar and Ford’s cymbal embellishments prior to subsequent solos from Costello and Pysz.
The quartet returned to “Insight” for the closing “Steps Of Time”, an episodic piece embracing plenty of textural and dynamic contrast introduced by a soft, warm guitar/tenor sax duet and followed by a rich, dark, melancholic, cello like solo from Goloubev on double bass. Perhaps the only regret of the entire evening was that we didn’t get to hear more of Goloubev with the bow.
The bassist also featured playing pizzicato prior to a dazzling solo from the leader that included some virtuoso finger work around the fretboard, propelled by Ford’s rapidly brushed drums. A final flourish from the drummer ensured that the second set finished on a similarly energetic high note to the first.
The well deserved encore saw the quartet taking the familiar melody of Ennio Morricone’s theme from “Cinema Paradiso” and taking it to a place of their own with concise solos from Golubev, Pysz and Costello on soprano with Ford’s cajon keeping the music firmly rooted in the Mediterranean.
From Poland via London by way of Italy and Spain Pysz and his quartet had brought musical sunshine to Shrewsbury on the bitterest and rawest of winter days. The Garland and Pysz concerts have got 2017 off to a brilliant start at The Hive and SJN’s programme promises further great things to come.
For Pysz 2017 will see the recording of a solo guitar album plus a duo record with di Bonaventura in addition to the Costello recording. It’s also to be hoped that he will document his partnership with Ivo Neame at some point in the future – and hopefully this new quartet too.
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