Pulse, Daily Progress by David A. Maurer
When two talented musicians set out to blaze new trails in music, interesting things can happen.
An opportunity to hear and witness the latest results of this exploration can be experienced at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Morwenna Lasko and Jay Pun Quartet performs at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville. Special guest will be soul singer Ezra Hamilton.
Although Lasko and Pun have been on this path of discovery for 10 years, they still struggle with defining the music they play. Pun said the musical term that first comes to his mind is “world,” because their sound encompasses several different styles, including jazz.
Lasko doesn’t try to give it a name or pigeonhole it here or there.
“I always like to refer to it as a listening adventure or journey,” Lasko said of their music during a recent interview. “We might be in one style for one tune, and then the next tune sets the stage for a completely different style.
“We pull from this melting pot of all these different influences. Jay and I are taking a new path in the sense that we’re not trying to fit into a box.
“With the music industry these days, a lot of groups tend to have to fit into a box in order to be marketed in a certain way. For Jay and I, it’s more of a journey through our creative process, and whatever we’re influenced by seeps through, which is the exciting part of it. It was a natural process for us, and a lot of people think there’s this musical chemistry that is really unique and very special when we join forces.”
Lasko and Pun recently released their second album, “The Hollow.” Some of the tracks were recorded at Dave Matthews’ Haunted Hollow recording studio, but that’s not where the title came from.
“The new album came out of a period of a lot of creativity for Jay and I,” Lasko said. “We weren’t playing as many gigs, and we were taking time to focus on our writing.
“I think you have to remove yourself from this fast-paced world that we live in and find that solace to let the creativity come through. So, the album title implies emptiness.”
The album includes mostly original songs, and it features quartet members Peter Spaar on bass and Devonne Harris on drums. Other artists who performed on the record are Lasko’s father, Thomas Lasko, on accordion; Colombian percussionist Tupac Mantilla; guitarist Stephane Wrembel; Michael Manring on bass; Joe Lawlor on guitar; and Hamilton on vocals.
“I think the new album is a perfect representation of our time of growth since our last CD, ‘Chioggia Beat,’ and where we’re going,” Pun said. “I think it’s a new sound for us.
“It’s a sound that came naturally. For us, it’s a big step forward. A lot of our friends who have heard it are saying they can’t wait to hear what comes after this.
“And, to be honest, I can’t wait, either.”
Pun and Lasko are graduates of Berklee College of Music, where they met while taking a class on the music of India. Lasko was 3 years old when she was inspired to learn how to play the violin after watching violin master Itzhak Perlman perform on “Sesame Street.”
Pun started playing piano at the age of 5, then moved on to the drums. When the student who played guitar in the middle school band didn’t show up, Pun quickly learned enough to fill in, and it has been his primary instrument ever since.
While taking guitar lessons from Jamal Millner, Pun learned a lot of blues and funk tunes. His gift for music resulted in the opportunity to travel to France and study with his guitar hero, Pierre Bensusan.
It was Bensusan’s name on a flyer announcing Pun’s senior-year recital at Berklee that caught Lasko’s eye.
“My father was really into Pierre Bensusan, who happens to be one of Jay’s big influences,” Lasko said. “I remember waking up on Sunday mornings and hearing my father playing Bensusan songs on his acoustic guitar.
“So when I saw the flyer for Jay’s senior recital, and it said he would be doing songs using Bensusan’s DADGAD tuning system, it really sparked my interest. When I went to hear him play, I was very impressed, because there is a certain beauty that comes through with that tuning.
“Bensusan, as a composer, is pretty insane. The harmonies and counterpoint that are going on in his compositions are just mind-blowing. So to hear Jay play these complicated melodies with such beauty and grace was very inspiring.”
In 2014, Lasko and Pun worked on a NASA-funded film score for a documentary for Colgate University, “The Making of a Star and Her Entourage.” This past summer, they toured Italy, which included performing in Charlottesville’s sister city Poggio a Caiano.
“As we were nearing Poggio a Caiano, we saw a sign that said it was the sister city of Charlottesville,” Lasko said. “Seeing that was really special, and the people there love Charlottesville.
“The mayor greeted us and showed us around. They embraced us with their hearts, and we were very moved by that. We played the Festival Delle Colline while we were there, and it was very inspiring.”
Pun said they chose the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center to perform because of its history and “beautiful” performance space. And African music is one of the influences that melds seamlessly into the sound that the quartet calls its own.
“We hope to continue on this path of creating this unique music and sharing it with others,” Lasko said. “We’re especially interested in traveling to other countries to share our music with other people and bring them together through our music.
“We also continue to study music with jazz theorist Roland Wiggins. One can study the language of music for a lifetime and never hope to learn it all.
“Jay and I graduated with music degrees, which isn’t typical at Berklee. And we came out with a thirst for more.”