Gigs of 2013

Something I read today brought me up sharp:  ‘And isn’t the whole point of things – beautiful things – that they connect you to some larger beauty? … if a painting really works down to your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think “Oh I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind”… (you love it because) it’s the secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you. I was painted for you.’   So said one of the unforgettable characters in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.   And so I think it is with great performances, they seem to speak to you, not in generalities or technicalities, but in something you know you will treasure, that you were meant to treasure.  This thought prompts my Gigs of 2013, some of which I have written about in this blog.

There was a late night set at Cheltenham in May, a good piano and the best of Edition – Dave Stapleton, Marius Neset, Neil Yates and Daniel Herskedal.  A sublime hour, made memorable by the obvious weariness of Marius, gently swaying on his feet (he had had a very long day of an earlier gig in Brighton), and yet transcending that exhaustion with the most beautiful sounds, not the full-blowing Marius we knew, but a more delicate one. Afterwards, when I saw him in the foyer and briefly thanked him, saying his performance had moved me, he listened so attentively and humbly, as if I had something of value to say. I will never forget that moment.

At the sight of Chris Bowden walking up the stairs at Stratford Jazz in September, all anxiety of whether he would turn up vanished, he looked so happy. For two hours he scampered around the stage like a court jester with a saxophone, wittily and wholeheartedly commenting on the other musicians around him, all signs of illness and weakness forgotten, just glad to be on the stage playing music he loved. To celebrate the evening, Chris had burned what he called a bootleg of his earlier performances with Stratford Jazz, tracks by Monk, and Brecker and friends.  Because it meant so much to him, the gig meant much to everyone who was there.

A beautiful duo between Dave Stapleton on a Steinway and Neil Yates on trumpet at St Georges Brandon Hill in February, a reworked Henryk.   In the clear cool surroundings of that venue, we heard the music afresh. The video below is from the track on the album Flight but its heartbreaking beauty was rendered human by Dave and Neil on piano and trumpet.

Obviously I must mention the launch of Maciek Pysz‘s debut album Insight  at The Forge in May.   Not only is this my album of 2013, I think it is quite possibly my gig of the year, its beauty took me by surprise. I could not wait to get the album home and into my heart so I could conjure it up in my memory whenever I want to.  The whole occasion was full of joy, of connection between musicians and with us.  It’s why you make the effort to turn out for live music, that somehow, the very act of your listening is adding to the experience of everyone else, that it has mattered that you are there.

And as I end 2013, I eagerly anticipate next year – already tipping Reverie at Schloss Elmau by Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev (on ACT)  to enter my albums of 2014 and no doubt that will be reinforced by seeing them live next year.  And at Stratford Jazz we host what I am calling  A Festival of the Guitar– starting with TG Collective, then John Law’s Boink! (which has a guitar), Maciek Pysz and finally Phil Robson. Different styles and temperaments, but all capable of conjuring up beauty and enhancing my life in unexpected ways. Thank you everyone I have heard this year, you have made that connection.

Mary James 22 December 2013

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