Anna Maria Jopek’s music may be able to transcend language barriers, but the Polish singer wasn’t short of words to describe her surroundings at the Brisbane Jazz Club on Sunday night. “This is honestly the best view I’ve ever sung in front of,” she told the audience, as she turned to look through the windows at the rippling Brisbane River and the city beyond.
It’s not surprising Jopek noticed the backdrop. Her performance showcased songs with melodies carefully layered in front of ambient background sound. From a few bass guitar notes looping slowly and lazily, to a rushing sound like waves crashing, and the haunting tune of a keyboard impersonating a vibraphone, Jopek’s music can be soothing and unsettling at the same time.
Many of the songs were versions of traditional Polish ballads, but with an undeniably modern, jazz-influenced edge. “These are Polish folksongs, but they’re almost unrecognisable,” one Polish listener remarked. With Jopek on vocals, her two bandmates jumped between several different instruments throughout the night. The highlight was undoubtedly one of the more traditional instruments – a surprisingly versatile piano accordion.
As a performer, Jopek had a gift for reading her audience. Despite operating in unfamiliar territory – both musically and linguistically – she could sense when a song needed to be made more accessible with an introduction or a joke. During the encore, she invited the audience to sing part of the chorus. Midway through the song, crowd lethargy had taken hold and only a handful of voices were joining in. Jopek noticed it immediately: “I beg you, please keep singing.” The audience couldn’t resist her plea, and as their voices rose, it was clear the chorus now had the backdrop it needed for the song to sound right. The rapport Jopek had built with the audience was actually part of making the music itself.