• Another sell out concert at Brecon Jazz Festival 2019 with Maciek Pysz and Paula Gardiner

    Great review from the Jazzmann:


    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.

  • Nice review of Gerard's 2018 Brecon Jazz performance



    Guitarist Gerard Cousins was a popular visitor to the Festival in 2017 when he led a sextet at the Guildhall which undertook an intriguing re-imagining of the classic 1969 Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”.

    Locally born Cousins is a highly accomplished classical guitarist who studied the instrument at the University of Leeds and at the Enschede Conservatorium in the Netherlands. Since 2005 he has released four albums of solo guitar music on his own record label. As well as exploring the conventional classical and Spanish repertoires he has also investigated the folk music of his native Wales, most notably on the album “Hiraeth” released in 2010.

    It was to the Welsh folk repertoire that he turned to today in the company of a scaled down Project featuring tenor saxophonist Dan Newberry and pianist Andy Nowak, both of whom had been members of last year’s larger ensemble.

    The intimate setting of The Muse proved to be ideal for Cousins’ primarily acoustic music, albeit with Nowak deploying, by necessity, an electric keyboard. The gig was notable for being held on young saxophonist Newberry’s 20th birthday.

    The idea of marrying jazz with Welsh folk music is not entirely new and has recently been successfully explored by the group Burum, led by trumpeter Tomos Williams and previous visitors to Brecon Jazz Festival themselves.

    Whereas Burum prefer to place the folk melodies into a modal jazz context the Cousins trio tended to adopt a more chamber jazz approach, adapting the source material rather less radically but still giving it a distinctive jazz flavour.

    The trio commenced with an adaptation of the traditional tune “Lisa Lan”, dubbed by Cousins “Lisa Lan Goes East” as the trio brought a touch of the Middle East to the music via Newberry’s tenor and Cousins’ nylon strung acoustic guitar. Nowak punctuated the piece with a passage of solo piano and also engaged in thoughtful dialogue with Cousins’ guitar.

    The well known hymn tune “Gwahoddiad” is a piece that Cousins has played as a solo guitarist for years. It lost none of its charm here in a trio arrangement that began with a passage of unaccompanied guitar but also included a series of melodic exchanges between Newberry and Nowak. The saxophonist’s subsequent solo then saw him subtly stretching the fabric of the familiar melody.

    “Ar Lan y Mor” (or “Down By The Sea”) also commenced with a passage of solo guitar that exhibited both classical and folk influences and demonstrated Cousins’ phenomenal technique with some almost prehensile fingering. Nowak’s keyboard subsequently took over the melody as the rushes of breath through Newberry’s tenor sometimes seemed to replicate the sound of surf.

    A sparse arrangement of a 7th century Welsh lullaby included an introductory dialogue between guitar and piano in which the notes almost seemed to hang in the air. As the tune developed we enjoyed a tenor solo from the increasingly assured Newberry before the piece concluded with a passage of unaccompanied piano.

    An all too short set concluded with “The Dove”, a beautifully melodic piece that recalled some of Jan Garbarek’s Nordic folk influenced recordings. There was something of the Norwegian’s sound in Newberry’s plaintive tenor in a piece that also included unaccompanied passages of guitar and piano.

    Although more modest in scope than last year’s “Silent Way” explorations this subtle and thoughtful set was very well received by an attentive crowd at The Muse. It’s very possible that the locally based Cousins may well return again next year with a fresh Project to explore.