Gig Review:
Nicolas Meier Group - Journey at The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho,
London W1, Wednesday, 28th September 2011
Nicolas Meier Group - Journey

Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
10 Dean St., London W1D 3RW
Wednesday, 28th September 2011, 8.30pm


Nicolas Meier Group :

Nicolas Meier - acoustic guitar, glissentar
Roberto Manzin - tenor & soprano sax, clarinet
Pat Bettison - bass & harmonica
Asaf Sirkis - drums

Date of Review: 2011/09/30

Nicolas Meier Group - Journey at The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho,
London W1, Wednesday, 28th September 2011

The weather - an abnormally hot, sunny late September evening - seemed just perfect for the journey. Nicolas Meier Group's Journey, that is, which is a journey at many different levels, but above all a musical journey, and almost always evocative of, among many other things, blue skies, sunshine, and pleasant temperatures.

This musical journey goes deep into the territory of the Turkish music that heavily informs much of Meier's exquisite music. The Journey took the form of Nicolas Meier Group's gig at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, on Wednesday, 28th September, the gig taking its title from Nicolas Meier Group's extraordinary album of the same title.

The line-up here varied slightly from that of the album, omitting pianist Jose Reinoso and with Roberto Manzin's clarinet, tenor and soprano sax taking the place of Gilad Atzmon's clarinet, alto and soprano sax.

While Meier, indisputably one of the finest young guitarists on the UK scene, will need no further introduction here, Roberto Manzin is an outstanding new addition to the group with a list of performing and recording credits as long as, well as long as a very long piece of string, including with many of the top performers. With his background of playing in a multitude of musical styles, and his outstanding technique and superb voice, Manzin not only fits the Meier Group to perfection, but moreover got into the music as if he'd played it all his life. I cannot think of any other clarinet/sax player who could fulfil this role within the Meier Group with more authenticity, authority and sheer excellence than Manzin, short of Atzmon himself.

Bassist and chromatic harmonica player Patrick Bettison, one of the finest bassists on the scene whose bass can take on almost any shape and role, and whose harmonica almost beggars belief in its sheer excellence and beauty, is already familiar from the album of course. And so, indeed, is of course Asaf Sirkis, probably the premiere drummer anywhere today and in constant huge demand and appreciated even by such veteran, or near-veteran, players as Larry Coryell, John Abercrombie, Jeff Berlin, Bob Sheppard and others.

Taken as a whole, even in the absence of Atzmon, the Nicolas Meier Group still is very much an all-star line-up then.

Nicolas Meier Group's Journey at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho this last Wednesday the 28th turned out to be something that many may grow to regret to have missed. It was a crying shame the Pizza was less than full for this rather special event, although it was a good and appreciative crowd. Granted though, a midweek date may have something to do with it, and almost certainly the current economic situation does seem to affect many gigs these days. However, nothing except civil disorder, outbreak of warfare, or inclement weather conditions on the scale of a hurricane should have stopped the dedicated jazz fan from attending an outstanding gig such as this, and moreover a not too common opportunity to hear the Meier Group live in central London. (But then, I am a life-long out and out 'jazz nutter' - or make that 'music nutter' - who will go to almost any length to catch a gig if I possibly can.)

What a delight awaited the faithful on Wednesday night!

The first set of Nicolas Meier Group's Journey at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho consisted entirely of the music of the album of the same title already referred to. Interestingly, Meier chose to play the pieces almost entirely 'straight through,' that is, without pausing in between the individual pieces. This worked extremely well and indeed somehow enhanced the feeling of a journey and the whole listener experience. Of course, on the other hand this turned the performance into quite a tour de force for the musicians. But one that they not only coped with extraordinarily well but one that they positively seemed to relish and play to the fullest.

Both ensemble playing and soloing were not just positively immaculate but absolutely bristling with the kind of brilliance that one would expect from world-class players of this calibre. Messrs. Meier, Manzin, Bettison and Sirkis were pure joy to behold, whether in their totally empathic, intuitive ensemble work or in their still empathic but fiercely competitive, fiery soloing.

Nicolas Meier displayed his phenomenal dexterity and musical inventiveness to the fullest on both guitar and the wonderful glissentar - a fretless guitar with some of the strings doubled to mimic the sound of the Middle Eastern oud. This latter has a delightfully rich, deep sound very nearly approaching that of the oud (and allows for its smooth glissandos), indeed as closely as it is possible without actually switching to an oud. It fits Meier's original, inimitable style to a 't' and seems to further increase the often giddy tempo of his fingering. As ever, Meier's improvs were nothing short of mind-blowing. And as ever, he was also equally generous with the time allowed for his band mates' solos.

Thus, Roberto Manzin was given at least equally ample time to shine. And shine Manzin most certainly did, on all three of his axes, and with admirable, astonishing brilliance. His improvs within Meier's very personal, individual fusion of jazz and principally Turkish music were so right on the button one could have thought Manzin had been in on it for a very long time indeed.

As for Pat Bettison, his now lyrical, then rhythmic and ever varying, adaptable bass often gave the impression of being a standard guitar in his breath-taking solos. And then of course there was Bettison's gorgeous, brilliant harmonica, now duetting with Manzin's clarinet, then his soprano, and then soloing, ever seductive, sensual, inimitable, so beautiful it took your breath away.

Always an experience rather than a mere performance, the phenomenal drumming, time-keeping and timing of Asaf Sirkis can always be relied upon to deliver and to do so with a stunning panache yet immense sensitivity. With his extended rig, Sirkis delivered an experience that simply blew the mind away and scattered it into the far reaches of the cosmos.

After the break, surely as much needed by the audience as by the Meier Group after such an intensive set, the second set brought no less a level of intensity and high energy as the first with a selection of tracks from previous Meier Group albums and from Meier's trios album, Breeze.

Again, the Turkish flavours prevailed deliciously, although the glissentar got a rest. However, the kind of brilliant, giddily paced fireworks that Nicolas Meier unleashed on his guitar soon made one forget this, and indeed forget everything else!

All round, the soloing of Meier, Manzin, Bettison and Sirkis kept climbing to sheer ecstatic levels, and they really couldn't have taken it higher. This kind of music is like a drug, but without the side effects and it's legal. Like its individual players, the Nicolas Meier Group is an experience.

Last Wednesday's Nicolas Meier Group's Journey at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho was a journey that will not be forgotten, a most memorable experience indeed.

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