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Anna Maria Jopek at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater

Ernest Barteldes By

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Anna Maria Jopek
Joe's Pub at The Public Theater
November 5, 2014
New York, NY

For the opening of her 2014 North American tour, Polish singer/songwriter Anna Maria Jopek concentrated on reinvented takes on her native country's folk and classical music, as featured on Polanna (Self Produced, 2011). Backed by a pared-down trio rounded out by Marek Napiorkowski on acoustic guitar and Pedro Nazaruk (keyboards, melodica, percussion, acoustic guitar, flutes, zither and backing vocals), she started off with an up-tempo traditional number featuring Nazaruk on synthesized flute. They quickly moved on to a looser tune in which Jopek improvised vocals in response to Napiorkowski's fluid guitar riffs and Nazaruk's hand percussion (he constantly switched instruments—sometimes halfway through a single tune). As the song ended, the group switched to a Bossa Nova beat. Jopek then improvised in English, to introduce herself and the accompanying musicians, and also to explain the concert's theme.

The trio continued with further vocal improvisation that evolved into a duet with Nazaruk. That was followed with "Czarne Slowa" (Black Words), a tune originally featured on Upojenie (Nonesuch, 2008), her collaboration with Pat Metheny. In a live format, the song had a bit of a Brazilian feel thanks to Napiorkowski's mellow guitar approach. He added an accomplished slide guitar solo, with Jopek handling the keyboards and Nazaruk on melodica. A great highlight came as both musicians played acoustic guitar on a tune with a flamenco-like groove that was open to much improvisation, especially by Jopek, who created a lot of wordless vocals using an effects-laden microphone that double-tracked her voice in different octaves. Another treasure was "Tam, Gdzie Nie Siega Wzrok" (Follow Me), a tune dedicated to Metheny. This version featured twin guitars, allowing Napiorkowski to take an extended solo while Nazaruk filled the open spaces with full chords.

Jopek has great vocal range. She sometimes sang quite softly, but during a few numbers she reached very high registers and belted out loud vocals. She was careful not to overuse any effects, allowing the audience to feel the full effect of her vocal strength. The group was incredibly tight—a result of having worked together for many years, and they sometimes took songs in different directions. A lot of the setlist seemed to be chosen on the spot. "Those who work with me on stage know I change everything only after I realize what audience I am dealing with," she told me during a recent interview. " I think it's my best quality as a musician—the ability to listen. As abstract as it may seem—I listen to the audience." The set closed with an unreleased tune she said had been written "at the hotel" during touring preparations. It sounded like a soft Bossa-inflected lullaby, and turned out to be a great close to the evening—a musical goodnight kiss to the sold-out room.
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