Now in its second year, ARTeria has constantly sought to promote Polish culture in London while engaging as wide and as diverse an audience as possible. Tomasz Stando, the festival’s curator, has written that this was to be ‘an open event in which we could interest London and Londoners… to be realised in the context of the city, with its diversity and cultural richness’. Objectively, then, the Maciek Pysz Trio seemed like the ideal headliners for such an advertisement in multicultural dynamism and creativity. Comprising the eponymous Pysz on acoustic guitar, along with Israeli Asaf Sirkis on drums and Japanese bassist Mao Yamada, the group offers a collaborative blend of influences and styles, drawing predominantly upon jazz, flamenco and world music.
Melodically, as well as harmonically, this music is often deceptively simple (and not without danger of very occasionally falling into monotony). It is largely ostinato-driven, replete with repetitive bass-line riffs often structured around just three or four notes, and for the most part based on fairly commonplace chordal progressions. At its best, however, this melodic and harmonic simplicity masks a rather more complex and deep-seated rhythmic vibrancy together with a technical prowess that is particularly captivating when experienced live. The trio’s third number, entitled Those Days, was a particularly good example of pulsating and climactic ensemble playing, full of Latin rhythms and North African-sounding scale patterns during the build-ups. Similarly, The Things I Miss worked very well as an opener to the concert, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by the bowed bass solo.
The real talents here are undoubtedly Pysz, with his often-mesmerising technical control and acute musical sensitivity (notwithstanding the slight tuning issues in his solo number), and Sirkis, whose audacious drum solos won the audience over, particularly in the latter half of the concert. And crucially so: winning the audience over must have been playing on the minds of the musicians, especially given the rather unconventional setting. It’s not the first time I’ve been to listen to jazz in a church, although then it took place in the crypt: low vaulted ceilings, tightly cramped audience, dim lighting. This concert undoubtedly had a rather more formal air attached to it, the trio performing just in front of the altar while its audience congregated in the pews. The ever-present dilemma that makes itself known with jazz concerts concerns itself with how the audience ought to react, especially with regard to such issues as clapping after instrumental solos or even talking between songs (and sometimes during). I had the feeling, at some points, that the setting prevented a largely receptive audience from expressing its obvious enthusiasm.
On the other hand, while this concert did prove to be successful on its own merits, it also served a greater cause in the context of the art festival that it was inaugurating. The formality of the setting arguably allowed for a greater focus (or at least a different sort of focus) on the music on the part of the listeners, and it was the abounding introspective quality of this generically diverse music in particular that I took with me into the art exhibition. I found myself brushing past fellow onlookers trying to find the piece of art that, for me, best complemented what I had just heard. Surely this, if nothing else, is indicative of the potential that this (and arguably any) music has for encouraging social and cultural diversity, by simultaneously emphasising the sheer range of art on show. Indeed, it is this sort of inward-looking approach that Stando demanded of the artists involved when he asked participants to consider ‘who is an artist?’ and ‘what is a work of art?’. If ARTeria’s aim was to offer Londoners the opportunity to experience the work of a community of individuals questioning their own artistic identity, then the Maciek Pysz Trio certainly provided cause for consideration.