Great review from the Jazzmann:
MACIEK PYSZ / GERARD COUSINS / PAULA GARDINER TRIO
A noon start in the function room at the Wellington Hotel for this unique, one-off trio featuring the combined talents of guitarists Maciek Pysz and Gerard Cousins together with double bassist Paula Gardiner.
Polish born Pysz, a previous visitor to Brecon Jazz Club’s monthly sessions, had given an interesting and stimulating talk and guitar demonstration the previous day in the lounge at Ty Helyg Guest House.
A popular figure among Brecon jazz audiences he was joined by fellow guitarist Gerard Cousins, a true local favourite. Primarily a classical guitarist Cousins, who lives in the Brecon area, also has jazz leanings and has performed previously at the Festival. These appearances have included a fascinating re-imagination of Miles Davis’ classic “In A Silent Way” album, performed in the company of a hand picked ensemble featuring some of the best jazz musicians from South Wales and the South West of England.
Paula Gardiner is also a familiar figure to Brecon jazz audiences as a bassist, composer, arranger and band leader and also as the Head of Jazz Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff.
Rather than taking the easy option and playing a standards based set the trio decided to largely concentrate on material written by Pysz and Cousins. It’s also likely that as a mainly classical player Cousins is less familiar with the ‘real book’ canon than his colleagues.
The performance began with Pysz and Cousins working in the guitar duo format and commenced with a beautiful interpretation of the Pysz composition “These Days”, a piece that he had performed solo the previous day at Ty Helyg. Today’s rendition featured the duo’s mesmerising, intertwining guitar lines, the pair switching lead and rhythm functions throughout the performance, passing the baton seamlessly as the piece developed.
Both guitarists share a love of flamenco music and “Desert” was Pysz’s homage to the great Paco de Lucia and featured both players using the bodies of their guitars as auxiliary percussion as they traded dazzling, virtuosic solos.
Cousins also draws inspiration from the work of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass and regards Pat Metheny’s interpretation of Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” as something of a personal touchstone. His own composition “Minimi”, written for two guitars, was therefore an ideal choice for this situation as he and Pysz delivered a hypnotic and immersive performance featuring shimmering, interlocking, arpeggiated guitar patterns, with Pysz utilising his foot pedals to provide additional colour and texture.
Cousins then went solo in a performance of his composition “White Cloud, Blue Sky”, a piece inspired by one of his jazz guitar heroes, the great John McLaughlin, and particularly McLaughlin’s work with Shakti and with Zakir Hussain. It was also his love of McLaughlin’s playing that led to the earlier “Silent Way” project.
And there was me thinking the title might have been inspired by Jan Garbarek’s “Photo With…” album, but I digress.
The performance itself mixed a delightfully melodic and pastoral opening passage with a more energetic and dynamic second part that became a whirlwind of extreme finger picking virtuosity.
The recorded version of this piece appears on Cousins’ 2014 album “The First Beat Is The Last Sound” and features him overdubbing the two guitar parts.
Cousins and Pysz were joined by Paula Gardiner for a segue that renewed their love affair with Iberia as Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez” was teamed with Chick Corea’s celebratory “Spain”. The concerto saw Gardiner picking out the melody on the bass as she exchanged phrases with the two guitarists. This proved to be taster for the dazzling performance of “Spain” which featured stunning solos from both guitarists plus a further bass feature for Gardiner. This was genuinely jaw dropping stuff, such was the skill and virtuosity on display.
But this performance wasn’t all about technique, there was also a strong focus on beauty with the players also embracing the concept of space within the music, with notes sometimes seeming to just hang in the air. A case in point was the trio’s delightful interpretation of Ralph Towner’s beautiful composition “Beneath An Evening Sky”, which was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar from Pysz and which later included an exquisite solo from Cousins. At Ty Helyg Pysz had spoken of his admiration for Towner’s work and this genuine affection was perfectly expressed here.
To close the trio performed the Pysz composition “Always On The Move”, a reflection on the guitarist’s nomadic lifestyle and a neat follow on from Friday’s talk. Again the piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from the composer but also included features for Cousins and Gardiner. Once more the piece revealed Pysz’s skills as a writer, he is a consistently excellent composer, whose works all possess a strong melodic, and even cinematic, quality.
The subdued virtuosity of these three fine musicians was rewarded with an excellent reception from a pleasingly substantial crowd at the Wellington. The reaction was enthusiastic enough for the trio to be accorded an encore. This proved to be Cousins’ choice, the guitarist selecting his arrangement of “Openings” from Philip Glass’ larger opus “Glassworks”. Cousins had transposed Glass’ piece for solo guitar but it worked equally effectively in a trio context with Pysz’s pedals and Gardiner’s bowed bass adding extra colour and texture to Cousins’ guitar parts.
This was a performance that again demonstrated the abilities of Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon to bring together musicians who have never worked, or even sometimes met, each other before, to create a viable musical partnership.
Pysz and Cousins clearly had a great respect for each others abilities and quickly gelled into an effective partnership with Gardiner subsequently finding her own way into the music as the set progressed.
This subdued but absorbing set proved to be something of a Festival highlight with the selection of largely original material making a nice change from the largely standards based nature of some of the other Festival performances.