What do you think of when you first see Acoustic Violin & Guitar? Bluegrass? Classical? Country? Erase your preconceptions and let the sounds of Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun take over. With their own unique blend of styles from Jazz to Folk, World Beat to Rock, it's always a surprise what comes out of their sound. With Morwenna's beautiful tone reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli mixed with Jay's funky rhythms channeling Richie Havens, these two are truly creating something unique like artists as Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Kaki King, Ben Sollee and Jake Shimabukuro to name a few.
A sound that's hard to describe, yet impossible to forget. With a cutting edge vibe that explodes with originality and soulful expression, Morwenna & Jay's music redefines the acoustic origins of violin and guitar. Both graduates of Berklee College of Music, the Violin & Guitar duo started playing together in 2004 and have continued to push the boundaries of "acoustic" music. The release of their highly anticipated 2nd CD “Chioggia Beat,” illustrates their ability to reinvent the limits of their instruments and in the process produce a lush range of original work that is sure to move your soul and mind. A mix of 12 worldly tunes, the album showcases Morwenna and Jay's heartfelt composition skills, along with their knack for introducing unexpected musical tangents and motifs in a way that keeps you wanting more. The CD features their signature duo sound, their full band, as well as a few special guest musicians such as legendary world artist Pierre Bensusan, soul singer Ezra Hamilton, and Dave Matthews Band trumpeter Rashawn Ross (who helps pay tribute to the late LeRoi Moore on "One Moore Farewell").
Together, they have shared shows with such greats as Vusi Mahlasela, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Dave Matthews Band, Avett Brothers, Toubab Krewe, The Duhks, Frank Vignola Quintet, Jesse Colin Young, Ralph Stanley, Corey Harris, Ben Taylor, and more. They've also had the great pleasure and honor to play at some wonderful festivals and clubs such as FloydFest, Bristol's Rhythm & Roots, The Prism Coffeehouse, Club Passim, Eddie's Attic, Down Home, and the list goes on...
Morwenna Lasko - Violin, Vocals.
Jay Pun - Guitar.
Pete Spaar - Upright Bass
Devonne Harris - Drumkit
Chioggia Beat (2009)
MORWENNA LASKO & JAY PUN Chioggia Beat
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That Morwenna. She's toying with me. First time I saw the picture on the inner jacket of Chioggia Be...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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In a replay of FloydFest 8’s Friday night, there was a site-wide power failure that forced the porch...In a replay of FloydFest 8’s Friday night, there was a site-wide power failure that forced the porch to become an intimate, acoustic, lantern-lit stage for Charlottesville’s stunningly accomplished violinist/fiddler Morwenna Lasko and her guitarist/partner Jay Pun. The magic was enhanced by the chioggia_small fact that we weren’t familiar with these two Berklee grads who mesmerized the reverent crowd straining to hear every nuanced note without the aid of amplification. The bonus is that the duo will play Ashland Coffee and Tea tonight (Wednesday) night at 7. I hope to see you there. Sorry…no pictures….it was too dark! But for us, the fest was off and running. Following are some other illustrated highlights.
Show Blending Old & New
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Local acoustic aces and regional favorites Jay Pun and Morwenna Lasko are gearing up for their first...Local acoustic aces and regional favorites Jay Pun and Morwenna Lasko are gearing up for their first West Coast tour this spring. The duo will hit the road with a revitalized sound from its expansive recent album, “Chioggia Beat,” which was released last fall.
The album finds Pun (guitar) and Lasko (fiddle) broadening their instrumental experimental folk into a new realm of melodic world fusion.
It’s new territory that’s certainly well executed by this pair of Berklee College of Music grads who have continually challenged the boundaries of their instruments since they started turning heads on the Charlottesville music scene six years ago.
“This one most represents what we do on stage,” Pun said of the album. “It showcases the journey of how we’ve grown musically in the last few years.
“We’ve gotten better with learning how to record ourselves. We write in the studio while we’re recording. The process helps us put together all of our influences and different styles and leads to something unexpected in the end.”
The album has a handful of high-profile guests, including world music innovator Pierre Bensusan and Dave Matthews Band trumpeter Rashawn Ross, who sets the mood on a moving tribute to the late DMB saxophonist Leroi Moore, “One Moore Farewell.”
Pun and Lasko’s upcoming tour will take them to Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington in late May and early June. Before they leave they will play a highly anticipated hometown gig at the Jefferson Theater on Saturday night.
The duo’s appearance is part of a three-band bill with Beleza Brasil and headliner Baaba Seth; the latter high-energy groove ensemble is a former Charlottesville mainstay that is getting back together for a special reunion show.
Pun said Baaba Seth was one of his favorite bands growing up, and he’s excited to share the stage with the group.
After the West Coast tour, he and Lasko will be back in Virginia this summer with plans to return to Floyd’s FloydFest in July.
“We’re trying to spread the word about what we’re all about,” Pun said.
“People see a fiddle and acoustic guitar and they immediately think bluegrass. Music doesn’t have to be just one thing. We’re exposing people to something new.”
AT A GLANCE
Baaba Seth reunion show with Beleza Brasil and Morwenna Lasko and Jay Pun
7:30 p.m. Saturday
New album brings second coming of Jay Pun and Morwenna Lasko
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There’s been a whiff of mystery about the second album from guitarist Jay Pun and violinist Morwenna...There’s been a whiff of mystery about the second album from guitarist Jay Pun and violinist Morwenna Lasko ever since Feedback first started putting noise into newsprint. For years, Feedback would run into Pun on the Downtown Mall and receive an update about this track or that, or catch hints of material not included on the pair’s 2005 debut, Etopia—songs like “Machine Gun,” which Lasko shreds through the center with a triplet-chop from her bow that could put an Iron Chef to shame.
Well, the suspense ends next Tuesday, October 6, when Pun and Lasko celebrate the release of Chioggia Beat with a night of music at Live Arts. Tickets for the show are available for $15 at Sidetracks Music, and The Honey Dewdrops will drop in from Scottsville for a 7pm opening set.
Mercifully, the suspense ended earlier for Feedback. Last week, Pun and Lasko invited me to producer Jeff Romano’s new Jimmydog Studio to hear Chioggia Beat on Romano’s speakers and to talk about the material, song-by-song. Which proved more amusing than one might expect.
For a pair of Berklee College of Music grads with serious chops, Pun and Morwenna are incredibly playful with their music. They use puns for song titles (the name of the title track, “Chioggia Beat,” is taken from the beets that Lasko grows in her garden; “One Moore” is for Dave Matthews Band’s fallen saxman and features DMB trumpeter Rashawn Ross). They have hilariously particular tastes in snacks (Haribo brand gummi frogs). Irreverent facts are thrown out between songs: “Did you know that it takes six minutes to make a Peep?” Lasko asks.
And through the course of its 11 tracks, the pair’s melodic twists and genre mash-ups are similarly playful—the mix of fibrous electric guitar and Thomas Lasko’s accordion on opener “Sheba’s Tea” come to mind, along with Lasko’s live tête-a-tête with drummer Johnny Gilmore towards the album’s end.
But it’s a very mortal mirth. For all the work that Pun and Lasko do to tie together worlds of style and loads of musicians with local connections (Ezra Hamilton—where you been?), their most impressive feat is to find a uniquely celebratory spirit for friends and family that died, many during the recording of the album. LeRoi Moore is here, of course, but so is the son of a longtime friend (“Atip Ouypron”), a Lasko family pet (“Koby’s Tune”), a mentor (“Into the Hedges,” for guitarist Michael Hedges) and Pun’s mother, who died eight years ago (“Mama”).
It’s so many spirits in one room, in fact, that Romano opened the sound of the album for the penultimate track, “One Moore.” “Jeff said that it should reach the heavens,” Lasko says. The intensely percussive playing that structures the rest of the album falls away a bit, Lasko runs the full length of her frets and the room expands to accommodate everyone.
And then, with a sip of his beer and a few more gummi bears, Romano plays the last track, a positive ripper called “Live Wire,” and things get a bit lighter.
One Moore Farewell
1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.