Concert Review: Michal Martyniuk Trio Feat. Dixon Nacey – Ponsonby Social Club July 4, 2020

In an evening that really solidified Ponsonby Social Club as the best jazz venue in town at the moment, The Michal Martyniuk Trio with Cam McArthur on Bass and Ron Samsom on Drums joined forces with “Best Jazz Artist” of 2020 Dixon Nacey and acclaimed musician Nathan Haines to create some kind of musical hyper-combo that rocked a very willing audience.

The first piece, simply titled Opening, gently bought the crowd into the sound with a cacophonous wash. When the band had our attention, they kicked into a backbeat groove, super cool. Old Friend brought smooth connected melodies, driven from the bass. The players shared a wry smile as they fell down a polyrhythmic hill together. Awakening was Nacey’s first opportunity to really get stuck in, showing us why he is the best jazz guitarist in the country. Playing ‘in and out’ of the sound comes very naturally with Nacey’s style, allowing for lots of healthy tension and release, like a good aural massage. Samsom’s Solo towards the end also a highlight.

Yes or No a Ballad. Cam at the bass had his groovy melodic contours going on. Despite Martyniuk being deep in improvisation, i felt really drawn to the bass in this piece. It’s this melodious dominion over the lower register that McCarthur permeated throughout the gig which bought a fresh perspective to the sound.

New Beginning grew nicely from the ballad that preceded it, picking up in intensity a bit, yet allowing for plenty of space to Martyniuk and Nacey to stretch out. Michal has a unique way of lulling the listener into a repeated pattern, and then when they feel secure in the idea he will break away with something unique which invokes excitement. On the other hand, he can take his time and allow the tension of the band to guide his musical choices until it is good timing to go rogue. And it all culminated in an expanding chordal progression that seemed infinite until the moment we clapped. Dixon in response and Samsom from there on the snare, and we’re back to nodding heads.


Martyniuk invites Nathan Haines to the stage for Java Blues, and they rock instantly. Nathan dances around Martyniuk’s beautiful and sickly chords in the lower mids of the piano, chromatic, dark, spooky, lurksome. No one plays the soprano sax like Nathan plays the soprano sax. People hoot and holler at the licks because that’s the kind of shit you can do at Ponsonby Social Club. Living jazz. Nacey bebops, Samsom goes tribal, and the band takes a break.

The 2nd half, and unfortunately some ignorant shit-heads are at the back talking really loud, eventually the music wins. The band play Good News and the rest of us tap in as best we can.

Deebee smooths the atmos. It is at this point that you can see the extent of Martyniuk’s stamina. The ideas are still fresh and engaging, physical, virtuosic. Some really fast, exciting and interesting material, and Cam and Ron are right there solid as a rock. Contrasted at the end of the solo by an unexpected half-time, we sink forward into Nacey who takes his time to paint his picture. And the portal goes deeper, into a soundscape under a bass solo, and back into a portion of the head.

One of Nacey’s tunes Otherside was next. In Michal’s words, ‘instead of playing five chords, we’re gonna play 50”. Sumptuous for sure, unpredictable in the best way, yummy.  The melodies stretch on for long periods, building tension fit for a well deserved clap from the crowd.

Beatrice opens gently but rocks and rolls pretty soon after. The highlight in this piece for me though was when they pulled the vibe back down and everyone got improvisational simultaneously.

Jazz Dance brings Nathan back to the stage. The hook floats with a really unique rhythm accompanying it on piano and rhythm section. Nathan has a go, Michal some more, and then Nathan launches. For me what defines these guys as musicians is not their ability to shred jazz; everything that comes out sounds cool. Although not rare in this environment, it is rare. Dixon emerges from a soft section and things get pensive and out the gate. Like using a thousand pins for a game of piñata without breaking the piece and you get all the treats. The tune is long, never boring and it finishes on a question mark.

Saw the Brothers is the encore. Intriguing and semi-mystical. Dixon takes a long and powerful solo, and Nathan goes long and expansive. The music speeds and tightens and he continues to sail which just adds more tension. And when the rhythm section hits terminal velocity, Nathan boosts a short burst followed by a gracious pass to Michal. Ron and Cam enjoy a postmodern moment together, and the ensemble enjoy a big finish.

Hearing this many great players together is such a treat. Haines’ guest presence really helped to vary the sound palette of the evening. With Dixon Nacey, tone is everything. Just the physical presence of his playing is one thing! Not to mention the note choices. Ron Samsom is a very supportive drummer. He has a certain worldliness to his playing reminiscent of a musician who has pulled and embodied style from all over. I feel it would be unusual to describe a bass player as a melodist, but Cam is exactly that. He sings on the horizontal axis, and with years of a studious approach to the instrument, it is a pleasure to watch him sing.

And Michal… Michal left nothing on the stage. He was fully immersed in the energy of the gig and very generous to the audience. Although gracious in acknowledging Dixon, Ron and Nathan as his university tutors, you can see that Michal is held in high regard by his contemporaries, and deservedly so as a worthy exponent of his craft. A loss for us in the coming months as he ventures back to Poland for a European summer. I certainly look forward to hearing him when he returns.

Josh Clark