Review: Pinski Zoo & Wojtek Konikiewicz

Pinski Zoo adds another keyboard player and allays Barry Witherden's slight misgivings with a strong performance in a pleasing venue

On 19 November, exactly 30 years after Pinski Zoo began a series of extensive tours through a still bleak post-martial law Poland when they met Polish pianist/composer Wojtek Konikiewicz, Kopinski’s home town, Nottingham, hosted the first gig in a short tour which ended on 22 November with this engagement at Bristol's Hen And Chickens. I had not been to this venue before, but was pleased with the attentiveness of the audience and the room itself: basic but comfortable with good sight lines from anywhere you sat.

I had had slight misgivings about how the addition of an extra keyboard player would work, given how complex and intense Steve Iliffe’s playing is, but it succeeded. Placed at opposite sides of the platform - Konikiewicz wedged between the pub piano and a couple of electric keyboards, Iliffe just visible behind an array of electronics - they signalled to each other from time to time, creating a dense web of lines that never got tangled, and both produced some fine solos. Konikiewicz slid in and out of different approaches, sometimes lush and rhapsodic, sometimes humourously perverse and angular.

Kopinski (pictured right), on tenor and soprano but no alto on this occasion, has a distinctive sound. Even when he is making sparing use of effects pedals his tone is intensely human, incisive yet poignant and emotional: he can touch the heart even whilst blistering the paintwork and his lyrical moods produce some of the most gorgeous sounds in jazz.

As ever, the twin basses of Karl Bingham and Stefan Kopinski worked brilliantly together, Bingham largely taking the upper registers, Kopinski junior the lower, both soloing to great effect at various points. Drummer Patrick Illingworth helped drive the whole business forward with his customary strength and panache.

The band kicked off with Iliffe’s jaunty Spymistress and Kopinski’s edgy Night To Dream, both from the After Image double album. Awkward Friends (an oldie from one of their early albums, Speak), was done at a fast bop clip, ramping up the excitement before Iliffe’s always engaging and intriguing keyboards introduced the stop-time Slim, where Kopinski’s tenor took on a gospel tinge over stalking basses. Stefan At The Window (another oldie, this time from the hard-to-find The City Can’t Have It Back) and Fireside Baby completed the first set.

The second set featured Sweet Automatic, Cemetery (a beautiful melody featured on Ghost Music, which was not actually a PZ album but by Kopinski pere et fils plus Iliffe and Jan’s daughter Janina Kopinska on viola), Peanuts (a fast Bingham composition), Bounce (another from After Image), Please Note and Girl in The Field (a piece formerly called Work Song which Kopinski based on a Polish folk song) and, after well-deserved enthusiastic applause, an encore of the glorious Potlatch Boogie from their much-acclaimed 1990 album East Rail East. PZ, with no new album releases for a few years, seems to have dropped off the radar somewhat, but gigs like this and a programme of re-releases on high quality vinyl will, I hope, revive the high reputation that this superb band deserves.

Photo by Steve Kilpatrick

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