Category Archives: Gigs I’ve enjoyed

Gigs I’ve enjoyed

London Jazz Festival 2018 – impressions of Punch Brothers and Mariza

When you haven’t seen a band or artist for years, there is a sense of anticipation that you try to control. But when you sit in the Barbican and the hollers and whoops that greet a band as they step onto the stage are loud and long, then you know you can let your hopes off the leash because you KNOW you will not be disappointed. This was the case with Punch Brothers on 16 November 2018 at the Barbican, opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival. A band that can make a virtue of tuning “I have eight strings, you only have five”,  that clusters around one microphone, that jokes about their country being a circus, that looks like they are actually enjoying themselves, this band could sing the phone book and I’d be happy.  It is hard to take your eyes off Chris Thile whose extraordinary falsetto vocals and mandolin, nimble movements and facial winks and contortions reminded me of a court jester, and as bitter.  The sound man must have had a heart attack when they walked away from the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage and played their encores acoustically.

Absolutely every minute was perfect but I will never forget their title track All Ashore.  When it finished, I was choked with tears (as usual) and I am sure Chris Thile had a lump in his throat. There was a  nano second of silence before the applause.  “Momma cuts like a man-of-war through the fog of an early morning with nothing more than a coffee filling up her sails.” This is why we go to live music, to feel overwhelmed by beauty and artistry in the presence of other people.

Seeing fado star Mariza on 17 November was moving for different reasons.  Another set close to two hours,  it never felt that long.  She also attracted like a magnet, her voice hard to describe, strong yet vulnerable, her presence commanding, her band providing a gorgeous backdrop with the delicate sound of the Portuguese guitar and accordion magic-carpetting us to Lisbon. When she stepped off the stage into the audience, slowly singing her way to the back of the stalls, then worked her way back shaking hands and receiving genuine thanks and appreciation from the many Portuguese people in the audience, I found myself moved again, by her warmth and humility. Look at her face and those near her in the picture below, they are spellbound and happy and she is the real thing.

Maciek Pysz Album Launch at The Forge 18 November 2015

Maciek Pysz at The Forge, 18 November 2015
Maciek Pysz at The Forge, 18 November 2015

It came to me quite suddenly – those half remembered words of John Keats “full-throated ease” and after the concert I hurried back to Ode to a Nightingale to rediscover what had prompted this image in my mind. For truly many of the sounds we heard from the guitars of Maciek Pysz last night at the launch of his second album A Journey at The Forge in Camden were full throated like a nightingale, gorgeous, rising above the other instruments effortlessly, hanging in the air, trailing off so gently and gracefully. The evening was one for the senses and for our imaginations. For Maciek’s dazzlingly memorable tunes and rhythms prompt you to see with his eyes, hear with his ears – whether it is a sophisticated Venice in Water Streets, a Paris basement jazz club or memories of his childhood.

And Keats’ warm South was there too in the shape of Italian ECM artist Daniele di Bonaventura on nostaglic bandoneon and rippling piano. The delicate abstract conversations between bandoneon and guitar in Ralph Towner’s Innocente and Pysz’s Desert highlights of the evening.  This was an evening to savour the sight as well as the sound of music-making – sometimes Daniele looked to the ceiling, gently rocking in his chair, the sound of buttons lightly touched like tiny gasps. Maciek’s guitar sits so easily in his lap, a natural extension of his arms and fingers, his fingers a blur – can he really be the only person making all those beautiful sounds? And Yuri Goloubev‘s wry lop-sided smile as he cascades up and down his strings faster and faster, Asaf Sirkis‘ closed eyes as he plays, his hands pitter-pattering on the udu. And surely this is why we come out to concerts – to see as well as hear?  Recent tragic events were not forgotten as Maciek dedicated his spirited, stylish Paris to the people of the city he loves very much.

We would have loved an encore but our time was up. We walked off into the night aware we had had a rare experience, a bit like hearing a nightingale.

Maciek Pysz’s tour continues until 28 November 2015

http://www.maciekpysz.com/

A Journey is released on Dot Time Records

Mary James 19 November 2015

Maciek Pysz Tour blog: Impressions to 13 November 2015

Maciek Pysz, St Ives 10 Nov 2015, photo by Tony Brown
Maciek Pysz, St Ives 10 Nov 2015, photo by Tony Brown

Alchemy – the process of turning base metals into gold. That’s how a tour seems to me – the base metal is the long drive to the gig, snatched meals, unloading the car (which Tardis-like has to hold far more than you can imagine), the patient carrying of stuff up or down stairs to the silent stage, the bleak empty rows of chairs, the music just notes on a page.  The alchemy is what happens when you mix supreme virtuosity, inspiration and shared experience.  And as this first full week of the tour ended with news of the tragedy in Paris, the beauty was punctured, Messenger and Facebook anxiously consulted. The gold had turned back to base metal.

But earlier there was definitely a touch of Eleanor Rigby  in Yuri Goloubev’s graceful arco opening to Peacefully Waiting.  Not for the first time was I reminded of how deep is the influence of The Beatles on all our listening.  I heard it again in the upbeat Ringo-like chug from Asaf Sirkis in Those Days when played in Cambridge. The title of the new album by Maciek Pysz is ‘A Journey’ and it seems to me that Maciek is describing interior journeys as much as literal ones in his compositions, that the musical descriptions of places like Venice in Water Streets are also descriptions of himself.

When an audience member says to me “I had not heard of Maciek before, I am so glad I came, I love this, I can’t wait to put the cd on when I get home”, when a musician in the audience involuntarily breathes “Oooo…”,  when I look round and see people smiling with happiness, then there is the alchemy. And as for me, I will try to listen with the stillness of Asaf in the next concerts.

Of course none of these wonderful evenings would happen without the toil of unpaid promoters who bear the financial risk of running an event. From the welcome on our arrival, the heartfelt introductions (“I have been really looking forward to this gig, we are so lucky to have this band with us tonight”) to the final cheery wave goodbye, they make all the difference and help turn the mundane into gold.

The Maciek Pysz ‘A Journey’ Album Release Tour continues til 28th November 2015. Album on Dot Time Records.

www.maciekpysz.com

Mary James 15 November 2015

Maciek Pysz Tour blog: 4 November 2015

It may seem a bit self-indulgent writing about an artist I have worked with for 18 months but I simply want to capture my thoughts and feelings as the 19 date UK tour of Maciek Pysz unfolds.  I am privileged in having a close up view, this moment may never come again so here are a few very personal thoughts. So here’s the beginning – Day 1 at St John the Evangelist, Oxford.

MaciekPysz_041115What struck me most forcefully was how much darker the music of the new album ‘A Journey’ is. If Maciek’s first album ‘Insight’ was all sunlit piazze, the new material is much more nuanced, gently shaded and reflective, but still vibrant with wonderful tunes.  Yuri’s bass appeared very muscular – hardly any of his signature romantic arco, and in stark contrast to the gentle touch of Asaf on drums. But it all worked perfectly, Maciek swapping between well-worn Tanglewood and exquisite new Dupont, the many layers of  the most distinctive and complex song on the album ‘Undeniable’  manifest by suble overdubbing where complexity sounded so easy and natural, the Trio’s interaction the result of deep sympathy and empathy.

The arrangements from quartet on the album to trio on tour are something I will listen out for as the tour unfolds. I was genuinely taken by surprise by the duo arrangement for guitar and bass of ‘Story of a Story’. And moved to tears by the beautiful ‘Beneath an Evening Sky’ by Ralph Towner  (please record this one day Maciek) so the juxtaposition of  the jaunty ‘Paris’ immediately following the Towner made me catch my breath, not for the first time that evening. The sound from the Trio was so beautiful – to hear them with only their modest amplifiers to project the sound was a very special event.  We were able to hear the sound as if it were a transparent veil over the magical scene in the darkened church. Every sound was delicately resonant and the silent audience was rapt.  I always said this was special trio and last night they reinforced that impression.  As I drove home in fog over the Cotswolds, I could hear and feel the music cloak me in wonder and gratitude. Oh lucky me!

Maciek’s tour is 4 -28 November 2015 more info

Mary James 5 November 2015

Gigs of 2014

Maciek Pysz_Pizza ExpressOver the past year I have gradually moved from being “just” a member of the audience to an active promoter for a small jazz club and I’m the booking agent for a jazz musician.   And this has had quite an effect on how I experience live music.   I now know just how hard it is to get gigs, how a malfunctioning monitor means a musician cannot hear himself or anyone else,  how not wearing your earplugs as a drummer is to risk serious damage to your eardrums. All of these things, and more, make me marvel at the musicians I have heard this year.     So here are a few sketches of many happy hours:

Marius Neset in Brecon Cathedral in August.  The sheer effort of Marius’s performance –  seeing him gasp like a marathon runner, his body almost doubled over as he tried to take in air after filling the vaults with incredible blood curdling sound.  A friend overheard to say “I don’t mind I never saw John Coltrane, because now I  have seen Marius Neset.”

Jef Neve , solo, at Kings Place in November.   A performance that moved me very much, especially Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, a song  which Jef said had saved his life several times.  His simple heartfelt introductions to each song, like we were in his living room, enhanced the enjoyment.   His album One  is on my Christmas list.

Maciek Pysz at Pizza Express in March with Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis and Tim Garland.   Reviewed here.  And remembered most for the achingly beautiful Beneath an Evening Sky by Ralph Towner with duo between Tim and Maciek.

Phronesis at Union Chapel in May.  Clouds of dry ice softening our view in a huge venue, Anton’s smile when he saw friends on the front row. Jasper’s jokes. The sheer joy and energy of it, a wonderful huge sound, the retention of intimacy in a big space.

 Michael Wollny at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in April.    I decided not to listen to anything by him before the gig, I had heard of his reputation, but I wanted to discover him for myself. So I was completely blown away by his virtuosity,  huge presence and the togetherness of his trio, and the way I just “got” the music, from plain chant to rock.  He did not disappoint.  It’s great to be able to write that.

Roller Trio at Stratford Jazz in October.    It was such an honour to host Mercury Prize winners.   It’s not just that they write such catchy tunes, instantly hummable, their own sound.    It’s how they are on stage – no-nonsense, let’s get on with it and see what happens and let’s make sure people enjoy it because we will be enjoying it.  Banks of pedals in front of James.   Sounds that made your blood run cold with excitement and fear almost.  Luke’s drumming that could be heard down the street.

All these performances have one thing in common – they moved me, my life was richer because of them, and that is why they are my gigs of 2014.   Thank you, every one.

Mary James 16 December 2014