December 2015
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.

Barry Witherden

Link to original article

After Image

Slam CD 266 147m:24secs (2 discs)
B B C M U S I C M A G A Z I N E - Barry Witherden
PINSKI ZOO:exciting, danceable and darkly atmospheric.
With its members involved in extracurricular projects, Pinski Zoo hasn’t released an album since the stunning De-Icer, captured live in 1993. After Image, drawn from concerts across England between 2002 and 2005, has been worth the wait.
The classic quartet has for some while been augmented by Kopinski junior on additional bass. He and Bingham constitute a sharp, well-focused unit, threading lines of clarity and strength through the band’s crowded, swirling, polytonal canvas.
PZ is still uncategorisable (I’d plump for post-punk-funk-harmolodicism if pressed), still uniquely exciting, danceable and darkly atmospheric, still powers irresistible pulses without stooping to tediously inflexible beats, still conjures nebulous, magical, mysterious soundscapes from forbidding ranks of hardware, still enchants with tender melodies plucked from the rowdiest melee. Less ferocious than of yore, perhaps, but there’s a much-extended palette. Harris is nimble and texture-savvy, Iliffe a master of colour, Jan Kopinski’s saxes as gorgeous and passionate as ever.
SOUND *****

www.allabout - Chris May

Pinski Zoo burst onto the British delinquent-jazz scene in the early '80s, around the same time as Neneh Cherry's Rip Rig & Panic.
Rip Rig & Panic sweetened their avant garde jazz content with vocals, guitars, songs with hooks, and some savvy rock and roll image building. Pinski Zoo, by contrast, made no concessions to the broader marketplace...or to anything at all. They served up a raw, unfiltered mix of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler-inspired tenor saxophone improvisations and rough-sex funk. And they peeled the socks clean off your feet.
This two-disc live set celebrates the band's uncompromising 25 years at the sweaty coalface of deep-seam free funk. The nucleus of the original quartet—saxophonist Jan Kopinski and keyboardist Steve Iliffe—still leads the assault. Bassist Karl Bingham joined in '85 and drummer Steve Harris in '87. So even today's core quartet has been together for very nearly twenty years. Kopinski's son Stefan joined on second bass in the late '90s.
The album was recorded across eight different venues in Britain during tours in '02, '03 and '05. There's both new material and re-arrangements of old favourites. Every tune, of course, is a band original, with Kopinski and Iliffe doing most of the writing.
The performances are as thrilling and unpredictable as any on the band's early-'80s breakout recordings. Utterly faithful to their original, post-Coltrane route to the jazz/funk shotgun marriage, Kopinski and Iliffe's playing is as shocking and in-your-face as it was back when they were freshmen.
Kopinski sounds practically untouched by the passing years. His playing is as hot and visceral and in-the-moment as it ever was, and his technique has grown beyond the merely formidable. He seems more comfortable with subtler nuances and lower boiling points, too: the unusually tender “Father Daughter (Ojciec)” here includes some rapturously lyrical playing.
Iliffe, who was always an arresting colourist and soloist, is on phenomenal form, with a tonal palette as broad as they come. And the rhythm section has never sounded so good: the twin-bass setup allows one player to maintain relentless, on-the-one, groove ostinatos while the other flies free above him.
In short, Pinski Zoo are still out there and still on cracking form. Organic, no-surrender, spiritually uplifting music, After Image is probably the best album the band has released to date. After 25 years at the barricades, that's an astonishing achievement Chris Parker

" At once a celebration of 25 years of operations in the ‘power fusion/free funk’ corner of the jazz world and a distillation of their live sound into 143 minutes of recorded music, this double CD is as close to a definitive Pinski Zoo album as you’re likely to get. It contains two storming versions each of anthemic live staples such as ‘Bounce’, ‘Firepoint’ and ‘Please Note’, but also captures the band’s subtler strengths: an attention to textural variation and nuances of timbre (especially from keyboardist Steve Iliffe, but also from the alternately stridently keening and multi-textured, almost Barbieriesque Jan Kopinski) that would not be out of place on a Weather Report or Joe Zawinul Syndicate album; a predilection for rubato musings where bassist Karl Bingham’s unshowy virtuosity comes into its own; an ability to sustain hypnotically regular beats (courtesy of ‘new’ member Stefan Kopinski and industrial-strength drummer Steve Harris) without losing tension; a control of dynamic variation that results in the climaxes seeming earned by, rather than gratuitously imposed on, the music. In short, as well as being one of the most viscerally exciting live acts currently operating, Pinski Zoo are a mature musical unit, and should be given credit for spearheading what is becoming an increasingly important and popular jazz movement, creating space for such contemporary bands as Led Bib and Fraud".


Jazz UK - (JF)
Regular attenders at London’s original Jazz Café in Stoke Newington in the late ‘80s will remember Pinski Zoo – a pioneering UK jazz-funk quartet that seemed to join Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, Albert Ayler and soul-sax music, and whose cult influence was out of all proportion to the exposure it ever had.
This is a double-CD set of Zoo live recordings between 2002 and 2005 – with all those early associations still plain, and what sounds like slightly more of a late-Miles feel at times – except that Pinski Zoo preceded much of the mingling of contemporary styles that has now become commonplace. Two electric bassists give the bottom end fearsome clout, the grooving is rugged and relentless, and the themes embrace the spikily hook-based and the unexpectedly tender. The ‘80s Zoo anthem ‘Sweet Automatic’ isn’t there, the recording quality is variable, and maybe not all the improvising justifies the length it’s represented at – but a unique band in full flight, and happily determined to keep airborne.


Jazz Review - PHILIP CLARK
Pinski Zoo have been playing their own concoction of post-Coltrane, post-Prime Time and post-Albert Ayler abstract funk since the early 1980s. This two-CD anthology pulls together material from live gigs, recorded over a three year span, into a sort of idealized Pinski Zoo performance. Tenor man Jan Kopinski and keyboard player Steve Iliff were in the group’s original incarnation, while Bingham and Harris joined in the mid-80s. Add Stefan Kopinski on electric bass and the basic group aesthetic is unchanged? Pinski Zoo is bigger than any single member.
One could criticize a lack of dynamic range in the performance (somehow even the quiet passages are loud) and a formulaic feel to the music’s structuring, but Pinski Zoo have an immediacy and vigour that’s always compelling. Unlike many post-fusion bands, their music retains a rockist edge and they’re unafraid to be a bit nasty. “Bounce” is dominated by the sort of retchy bass line that’s a trademark, while Jan Kopinski’s tenor has rarely sounded so authoritative. “Father Daughter” treads into what could be described as the ‘driven ballad’ territory that David S Ware occupies so skillfully, allowing Kopinski to reveal his lyrical side. But it’s their up-tempo mania that makes most impression – compromise isn’t a word in their lexicon.


PINSKI ZOO are seen by many (including US drummer’s Mark Holub’s Led Bib drummer) as the originators of what is now known as ‘power fusion’ – a mix of hammered bass, crashing drums, shifting keyboard textures and keening/roaring saxophone rooted in Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics and James Brown’s funk, but more jazz-based than either.
Intriguing, then to hear them (after a characteristically wide-ranging, witty and oddly-moving 40 minute solo-piano-plus-tapes set from the extraordinary Matthew Bourne) after Holub’s band in a June mini-festival at London’s Vortex, programmed by Led Bib. All the old Zoo power and roiling energy were in evidence, leader Jan Kopinski waiting until the band reached near boiling-point before tearing into his anthemic saxophone themes, keyboardist Steve Iliffe providing the textures and moods, bassists Karl Bingham and Stefan Kopinski complementing each other perfectly and drummer Steve Harris crashing out the industrial-strength beat. At full throttle, there’s no sound as full-blooded or viscerally powerful as Pinski Zoo’s – unless its Led Bib’s. The band played a short introductory set that was almost painfully intense subjecting everything from Erik Satie to simple musical hooks to their full-on, two-sax, no-holds-barred approach, powered by Holub’s pounding drums.


The poster told us that No Immortal, a club night run by Kingsuk Biswas of Bedouin Ascent, was featuring two “legends” who have “influenced a legon of freestyle Techno, breakbeat and Hip-Hop experimentalists”. The organizers had managed to convene authentic line-ups, too. Pinski Zoo comprised the quartet who cut 1990’s East Rail East , the Zoo’s finest release: Jan Kopinski (alto and tenor sax), Steve Iliffe (keyboards), Karl Wesley Bingham (bass) and Steve Harris (drums). Kopinski hasn’t only learned from Ornette Coleman how to shuffle a groove into freedom, he’s also learned to train the family: his son Stefan Kopinski’s electric bass fitted in beautifully.
Pinski Zoo play a jagged, reconstructed boogie music which manages to solve all kinds of problems which foxed post-Miles Davis fusion. Kopinski isn’t frightened of simplicity, and some of his themes come direct out of Polish folk song and the Gene Ammons-style tenor-Hammond strip joint tradition. But the rhythm section is never cast into a subservient role. In the authentic P-Funk manner, the quintet turn their instruments into a drum circle. With Stefan laying down a heavy ‘one’ (his intro to “Polish Journey” managed to invoke both Deep Purple and dub, something even Davis never quite achieved), Bingham is free to cavort in the upper register, coming on like a cello and even a lead guitar. He has his harmolodic chops down, his thumbed motifs dancing and glinting just like his persistent smile. Iliffe is responsible for the gothic, discordant aspect of the Zoo, a panic nightmare dreamed by Joe Zawinul. His jarring, determinate, ‘bad’ chords chase away the classicism that usually vitiates keyboard contributions. A track from Ghost Music, Kopinski’s spooked-out solo album, was almost unbearably sick and scary. Drummer Steve Harris makes sure each beat feels like an attack, there’s no coasting in the Zoo’s harmonic thinking, and none in the rhythm department either. Faced with this twirling, defiant, East European danse macabre, the audience seemed unsure whether to dance or lie down and die, which seemed quite correct.