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Album Review

MORWENNA LASKO
& JAY PUN
Chioggia Beat

That Morwenna. She's toying with me. First time I saw the picture on the inner jacket of Chioggia Beat, I swore she was flipping us all off! I would not put it past her because I saw her onstage once and when she's playing, she doesn't take back seat to anyone. So I pulled out the old magnifying glass and checked out that right hand (fist, actually) to see exactly where the magic finger was and damned if it wasn't where it was supposed to be, right there with the other three and thumb in the shape of a fist. But, again, I wouldn't put it past her to have had it airbrushed a la Don Stevenson and Moby Grape.

But that's the beauty of Morwenna Lasko and Jay Pun. You can never be sure of anything. That time I saw them onstage (read the review here), they were an untamed force, energy and emotion emitting in all directions and sometimes in all directions at once. While all of the songs weren't hurricane force, many were and the others were anchoring in safe harbor. If anything caught the crowd by surprise, it was the amount of sound emanating from just two people—- just guitar and violin.

Admittedly, there are more than two on Chioggia Beat, but throughout those two are the core. Their bio is straight out of Disney--- boy and girl find music at an early age, decide upon music as a life if not a career, meet while attending Berklee College of Music (which I thought was in Berkeley until a few years ago--- it is in Boston) and follow their muse together. Seldom do you hear either of their names without the other. Seldom do you hear either play without the other. Like I said. Disney--- if even only from the outside.

At times, I have to convince myself that they have only two albums out: 2009's Chioggia Beat and 2005's Etopia. Perhaps it is the number of hearings I have given each. Perhaps it is the wide variety of musical styles they incorporate. It just seems that I have heard much more than what is there.

That wide variety borrows from a world of music: classical, third world, jazz, bluegrass, folk, rock--- the list could go on forever. Chioggia Beat, for instance, melds old world and jazz swing in perfect combination, influences of folk and country supporting a jazz style popular in Europe in the thirties and forties. One Moore Farewell is a lazy stroll through a beautiful dreamscape, a cinema-musique tribute to friend and colleague LeRoi Moore, obviously much missed. Pun steps into Michael Hedges territory with the semi-forceful and striking Into the Hedges and joins with Lasko to carry us over a threshold with the stunning and soft Atip Ouypron. B-Loose is rock/swing, the solid beat giving way to a jazzy extended bridge of violin pyrotechnics (something Lasko does very well) before friend Ezra Hamilton overlays his soulful voice. Wait! Is that Pun playing an electric guitar on the break? Damn, but I wish he would play more. And is that Lasko singing on Mama, a song that seems to borrow from African folk? If it is, I wonder why she doesn't sing a bit more (though that would mean less violin and when you hear her play, you more than likely will not want her to stop).

I heard most of the songs on Chioggia Beat played live with just the two of them. I heard pretty much what is on the CD, though I confess to it being slightly more intense and frantic. Could it be that the album was more about the music and the performance more about the performance (keep in mind that the supporting musicians on the album are a virtual who's who of the Charlottesville music scene)? Talking with Pun, I get the feeling that what comes out is just what comes out. The crowd was definitely behind the duo when I saw them, the applause loud and, toward the end, raucous. Maybe it was adrenaline. Maybe it was focus. Maybe it was just that night. If you think I believe that, you haven't been paying attention. Morwenna Lasko and Jay Pun impress the hell out of me. I'm sure they impress the hell out of other musicians, too. There's the benchmark. If musicians dig them, they're dig-able. Take the hint.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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