The Maciek Pysz Quartet, in the intimate setting of the Soho Pizza Express Jazz Club, warmed up a chilly Tuesday night. With the strums of Pysz’s flamenco guitar it also placed Europe – perhaps unwittingly – firmly on the menu. The continent – though never specifically mentioned – was a recurrent and edifying theme throughout, and in a set of two sessions spread over almost three hours the ensemble, with their extended improvisations, enthralled us with the purest form of jazz.
The other conjurers of this musical magic, whom the Polish-born Pysz insisted on introducing as ‘pan-European’ , were the Italian Maurizio Minardi on piano and accordion; double bassist Yuri Goloubev from Russia, ‘one of the best in the business’; and the British drummer Eric Ford. Geographical biases aside, the interesting thing about the ensemble is how esoterically continental it all sounded. Borders shouldn’t restrict a balm this soothing nor should art of this quality be the preserve of a few.
The genius of the quartet included achieving sounds both layered and deep with the efforts and skill of just four instruments or, at frequent moments, even fewer. Introducing the Antônio Carlos Jobim jazz classic Insensatez with his guitar solo, Pysz reimagined the Bossa Nova staple – which made the careers of artists like Astrud Gilberto of Girl from Ipanema fame – as a melancholic piece reaching straight for the heart. In a stripped down flamenco effect, partnered by Minardi’s accordion on tracks like Water Street, the chords of Pysz’s strings were pensive in a composition spiced with a distinctly Euro-jazz flavour. In a minimalist yet rich conversation between just the guitar and drums we were treated to an untitled improvisation that gave a hint of the Balkans, stretching the boundaries of Europe. With the rambling melodies of the dialogue between the instruments we were transported afar only to discover the continent had a vast wilderness. Pysz took his panache in dueting to another level, joined onstage by the violinist Babara Dzeiwiecka. Their partnership produced a pared down yet sublime take on Stanley Clark’s Song To John.
A Journey, Pysc’s new studio album showcased on the evening, is itself a mellow, reflective affair with track titles like Fresh Look; Story of Story; Innocente, and Peacefully Waiting. Yet its mellowness didn’t disguise the latin flavour or diminish the gypsy spirit of the album, which peaks with Desert, a tribute to the late great flamenco jazz-guitarist Paco de Lucia. This is grown up music for all seasons: to chill out to on a wintry night, stretched out in front of a roaring fire; or for the summer, coasting down a winding road in the south of France with the rooftop down on your convertible. With tracks entitled Paris and Water Street, a homage to Venice, this would also make a good gift for any Europhile, especially those schooled in the continent’s high culture. A Journey really lives up to its title: it travels both with style and class – as much as music can. Some good things – we must remember – come out of a united Europe, and are even better with this eclecticism in the mix.
More information of the Maciek Pysz Quartet – including forthcoming tour dates – can be found on the guitarist’s website: accessible by clicking on either of the images above.