REVIEW Kit Downes and Bojan Z in the 2019 Pizza Express Steinway Two Piano Festival

Bojan Z (Left) and Kit Downes at Pizza Express
iPhone snap by William Ward
Kit Downes and Bojan Z 
(Pizza Express. 20 March 2019. Steinway Two Piano Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The audience thinks it's all over. Perhaps with good reason. The last of the improvised choruses of the final number, Bud Powell's Bouncing with Bud, has been so utterly joyous and major-ish, these two pianists Bojan Z and Kit Downes have landed us in such a good place, it feels natural and fitting for us to break out in confident, grateful and above all spontaneous applause .... and then sheepishly to let it die down again, as we work out it isn't actually the end yet, that there is actually one more little bit still to come. Of course. A jazz club. Where jazz conventions prevail. There is going to be one valedictory 'head' of the tune. It is now.

I just like that idea: these are skilled performers who know exactly where they want to be on the emotional compass, and also where they want to bring us over the course of an evening. And it's job done. We have already landed at our final destination...

Those two happy endings summed up what the evening was about: this two-piano concert had a special spirit of life- and friendship-affirmation about it, and for a good reason: it turned out that Z (full surname Zulfikarpašić) and Downes have admired each other's playing for over a decade. They have known each other ever since the Serbian-born Paris-based pianist played in a trio with Ruth Goller and Seb Rochford (see the link to a 2010 review below), but this was the very first time they had actually played as a duo together.

They had the freedom to construct an interesting and varied programme. It was book-ended by fast-flowing and youthful early bebop: Dizzy Gillespie's Grooving High to start, and Bouncing with Bud to end. But, in between those markers, we found ourselves taken to some very different places. A highlight was a delightfully airy and spacious version of Carla Bley's Jesus Maria. The rhythmic impetuousness of Thelonious Monk tunes such as Evidence and particularly Off Minor was eventually revealed, but not until several diversionary tactics had been employed, and in one case a thorough percussive examination of the sounds that can be elicited from a piano case had been expertly undertaken by Bojan Z. If those tunes led us into abstraction, intellectualism and detachment, a tune such as John Scofield's The Guinness Spot was much more lulling, comforting. There was also one of Kit Downes' 52 pieces for right hand (interview link below) which he had dedicated to Bojan Z.

This was a programme which had clearly been constructed with care -  and also agreement and affection. For us as an audience to witness a long-term off-stage friendship between two versatile and hugely adept musicians being captured on-stage and in music for the very first time felt like a privilege. The real ending was loudly and unanimously applauded: we did manage to get that bit right.


Bojan Z (foreground) and Kit Downes
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney


LINKS: Review of Bojan Z from 2010
Interview with the background to Kit Downes' 52 pieces for right hand

There are still SIX more concerts in the Festival which ends on Sunday 24 March

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