PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes



Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often a joy. Compositions are fresh and authentic and genuine pleasure is taken from performances in which every player offers pretty much everything they've got. 

So it was with PYJAEN at Peckham's Ghost Notes this week. This is a quintet now edging into 'hot' territory – so soon after starting out late last year – and one that's now being picked up by festival and club bookers all over the country. Comprised of friends from Trinity Laban's jazz course, the group effortlessly meld funk, modern jazz, Afro-beat, disco and hip hop references without the listener really hearing the seams. Of course, using categories to describe contemporary music is always a bit lame – so let's just say PYJAEN have their own sound, with compositions by all of its members that seem to be of a piece.

Let's also not get stuck on the name of the band (maybe pronounced 'pie-jan'); it doesn't mean anything, it's simply the result of an in-joke after a barista at the Brainchild Festival mis-scrawled the name of trumpet player Dylan Jones on a takeaway coffee cup. But the new word expressed something that summed up where the musicians are at. From the off, PYJAEN set up a groove propelled with dynamism and formidable technique by bassist Ben Crane, guitarist Dani Diodato and drummer Charlie Hutchinson – one that rarely let up all night.

But driving rhythm and danceability did not mean tunefulness was sacrificed. Tracks like Diodato's 'Tapa' and 'SE Wave' are made up of powerful horn-lines with angular asides and the occasional unexpected departure. Lovely wide intervals on tenor and trumpet suddenly converge, creating powerful intricate unison passages in a manner that reminded a little of late 1970s Brecker Brothers. That thought returned when Jones added a very effective phasing effect, like Randy on 'Heavy Metal Be-Bop'. His soloing featured long phrases across the full range of the horn, with plenty of chromaticism, high-octave exclamations and inside out harmony. Tenor player Ben Vize was similarly exciting, with a full, well-balanced gutsy sound and soloed with plenty of clever twists and pyrotechnic sorties into the upper register.

Despite the newness of the band and material, there were no music stands or any glancing at charts; the material had been internalised to the extent that the musicians could relax into each tune and fully commit to each piece. This is not a band where one could imagine deps casually slotting in; the quality of this sort of performance hinges on hours working as a unit, a unit that breaks out into virtuosic solos. Though the mood was generally uplifting and exhilarating, there were hints of a darker sensibility and more intimacy with standout tracks such as Jones' 'Free Your Dreams' and Crane's 'Steve', the latter set up by a lilting, wistful bassline. For this piece, Vize took to his soprano, starting reflectively and establishing a pool of quiet that might have benefitted from the band taking a little longer to ratchet up the volume and intensity.

The trains on the Catford loop line passing close, but inaudibly, behind the band (the venue is on the fifth floor of Peckham Levels, in line with the elevated railway) added a curiously suitable backdrop to the gig: the sense of a band developing rapidly and going places. But wherever they eventually end up, there's probably no time like the present to catch them.

– Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Glauco Canalis