REVIEW: Maciek Pysz Quartet at The Red Lion, Birmingham

Maciek Pysz
Photo © John Watson jazzcamera.co.uk

Maciek Pysz Quartet
(Birmingham Jazz at the Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. 10th March 2017. Review and photography by John Watson)

The sound, touch and phrasing of guitarist Maciek Pysz has a captivating liquid beauty, a musical evocation of the glinting of sunlight on reflections in a river. His sound is at once mellow and yet open, and the upper harmonies have a bright, sparkling edge.

Pysz, born in Poland and based in London as well as often touring in France and Italy, achieves shades of this fluid quality on a variety of guitars, most made by the firm Godin – archtop, semi-acoustic, and classical – but I suspect that the sound is created in his head and in his hands, not in the inherent characteristics of the instruments or in his subtle use of effects pedals.

The guitarist is self-taught, and this may go some way to explaining how he has achieved such an individual style. Pysz is certainly no “production line” musician. His technique is impressive: his left hand flows around the fingerboard with ease, and with his right hand he occasionally mixes in fingerstyle plucking as well as picking. Like one of the guitarists who has inspired him, Ralph Towner, he can expertly half-deaden the strings to create percussive lines, and – another Towner technique – use deliberate buzz by gently fingering the fret wires. He does this sparingly, but it adds to the colour palette of his improvising.

However impressive his technique may be, it is certainly not “showy” – everything is at the service of creative expression.

Last night Pysz brought his current quartet to a packed Red Lion in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, for a concert presented by the enterprising organisation Birmingham Jazz, and part of a UK tour. With him in the quartet are three considerably accomplished musicians: pianist John Turville, bassist Yuri Goloubev and cellist Adam Spiers.

John Turville, Maciek Pysz, Yuri Goloubev and Adam Spiers
Photo © John Watson jazzcamera.co.uk
The cello, once so rare in jazz, can be a perfect foil for the guitar, and Spiers – playing a rare carbon fibre bodied instrument made in Boston, USA – has a rich tone, with immaculate bowing and great expressiveness.

Much of the music in the concert was drawn from the guitarist’s acclaimed album A Journey (a work with Goloubev, bandoneon player and pianist Daniel di Bonaventura, and percussionist Asaf Sirkis, released by Dot Time). A new album London Stories, with guitarist Gianluca Corona, is due for release in April on 33 Records.

Pysz opened the performance with his composition Undeniable, his flowing arpeggios on solo guitar ushering in the main theme by the quartet. Apart from the leader’s confident soloing, I was immediately struck by the rapport between the excellent Goloubev (often bowing the bass in the main themes) and Spiers – the sound of the bowed strings, perfectly pitched, creating a dark backdrop to the bright sounds of Pysz’s guitar and Turville’s piano.

Another original work, Desert, co-written with Gianluca Corona, was a suitably flamenco-inspired tribute to the late Paco de Lucia, featuring a dynamic solo from Turville as well as percussive effects from the leader. The first set closer Steps Of Time, also had fine playing by Turville, but its highlight was a long, inspired solo by the guitarist, driving and exciting, and with a strong sense of musical architecture.

Second set highlights included two original Pysz works: Water Streets, a jaunty theme inspired by a visit to Venice, and featuring an imaginative cello solo from Spiers, and the set closer Insights.
However, for me the most memorable and musically intense performance from the guitarist came with what is perhaps Ralph Towner’s most beautiful composition, Beneath An Evening Sky (recorded by the American guitarist on the 1979 ECM album Old Friends, New Friends, and, incidentally, featuring a cellist, David Darling). Pysz’s recreation of the piece was sublime: intensely focussed and emotionally expressive.



    The Pysz quartet tour continues in Taunton tonight (11th March), and on 19th March will be at Just East Of Jazz in Collindale, and on 2nd April at the Milestones Jazz Club in Lowestoft.
    The Birmingham Jazz weekly series at the Red Lion continues on Friday 17th March with two more guitarists: Nic Meier and Pete Oxley.


    LINKS: Birmingham Jazz
    Maciek Pysz

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