Review: Marialy Pacheco at Ronnie's

Dave Jones found Marialy Pacheco's set at Ronnie Scott's piano festival a mixed bag and was left incredulous by some of the decisions taken

From 21-26 August, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London once again hosted their own piano-trio festival with another varied and interesting programme, including, amongst numerous others, the Tord Gustavsen Trio, the multi-media experience of Tin Men And The Telephone, and a "Pianothon" featuring John Critchinson, Andrea Vicari, Lyle Barton and house pianist James Pearson.

This year the line-up arguably didn’t have quite the same sprinkling of jazz piano heavyweights as last year, and there seems to have been a change of emphasis to more emerging acts, but introducing the lesser-known to a wider audience is always good for the future of the genre.

There was less live-streaming of the festival gigs this year, but I was able to get to Marialy Pacheco’s early set on the Tuesday evening. Pacheco (pictured by Markus Jans) is a Cuban pianist based in Germany, and was the first female winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano competition in 2012, where the jury president was the extraordinary Polish pianist Leszek Możdżer, who appeared as part of the Ronnie’s International Piano Trio Festival last year. Pacheco also comes complete with high praise from that legend of Cuban jazz piano, Chucho Valdés.

So, to that first set on Tuesday evening. Well, it certainly wasn’t the set I’d anticipated, mainly because the bassist couldn’t get a visa to enter the UK, which I dare say is unfortunately something that we may generally see more of in the future. When Pacheco announced her bassist was missing I expected a last-minute London bassist would be introduced. Putting two and two together but making something other than four, I thought that London bassist might be Laurence Cottle: I’d seen his brother, pianist Dave, earlier in the day on the train and he said that Laurence was playing at Ronnie’s early in the evening. In reality, no bass player was hired, and instead, Pacheco went for regular colleague Joo Kraus (trumpet and flugelhorn) who also offered bass substitute during some of the piano solos, by using his voice over his trumpet's bug microphone.

I’m not convinced that this low frequency vocalising worked all that well - not because Kraus couldn’t provide the bass substitute well enough musically, but from where I was sitting the bass sound that was produced was at least a touch too loud, and yet at the same time was a little unclear. However, my listening position provided an excellent view of Pacheco’s left-hand activity on the piano, and that left hand was to prove an even more important part of the evening than it might have with a bass player. Diego Piñera on drums seemed completely unfazed by the lack of bassist and still achieved some great rhythmic interaction with Pacheco, but at the same time I would really like to hear him with the trio’s regular bassist.

The set that unfolded in these circumstances proved to be something of a mixed bag and I was left incredulous by some of the decisions taken. For instance, the set opened with some delightfully delicate and yet powerful solo piano (obviously one of the leader’s strengths), so quite why we didn’t hear more of this is something of a mystery, particularly as eight minutes were spent introducing the last number, Metro, after around only 55 minutes of the set had been played.

Most of the tunes offered were from Introducing, Pacheco’s late 2013 album, and hearing this after the gig made me feel even more disappointed that I didn’t get to hear the planned trio, but this in no way is critical of bass deputy Kraus, who added some great touches on trumpet and flugelhorn, despite wallowing in effects at times. Besides his efforts on horns and bass vocalising, he offered a whistling solo on the mid-set interpretation of Ellington’s Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, although part of me thinks that offering a swinging blues in the middle of the set in these circumstances was something of a "playing for time" tactic, not unlike the aforementioned incredibly long introduction to the set closer.

There’ll no doubt be better circumstances under which to hear Pacheco’s fine compositions and playing and hopefully her regular bassist too.

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