Zane Merritt: Passionate guitar playing and other niceties – an evening at Pausa Art House

Few days ago I did manage to visit a cosy and very cool place in Buffalo. Pausa Art House is quickly becoming a home for great concerts, exhibitions and literary readings, not to mention the wine tasting evenings that owner Jon Nelson and his charming wife Lázara Nelson are keen to pair with new and exciting art. I have been planning to visit it for some time and finally Zane Merritt, composer, guitarist par excellence and a brave improviser drew me in with an eclectic but exciting mix of music.

And what a fascinating mix of music Zane has chosen for the few but attentive listeners.

The program opened with Jumon (1971) by the Japanese composer Hifumi Shimoyama. The richly textured, reflective piece performed confidently by Mr. Merritt set the mood and raised expectations for the rest of the evening.

The second piece, Composition No. 3 by Takeo Noro was a captivating, introvert exploration of harmonics and bell-like plucked strings, which culminated at the end with an urgent accelerando played with open palm on the strings. Mr. Merritt was almost certain that the piece by this elusive Japanese composer hasn’t been performed previously in the US, so we were treated to an American première as well.

Zane’s former teacher, composer Michael Schelle, was the next composer of choice in the program, with his piece Crusher (2013), for guitar and piano. The piece was written especially for Mr. Merritt and he “nailed it”. It is a piece of contrasts, sometimes surprising and violent, sometimes somewhat ironically melodic. The balance between the piano and the guitar is carefully taken care of by Schelle and Zane and Nick Emmanuell showed that this instrumentation is worth looking at by more composers.

What concluded the first half of the concert was a tremendous tour de force in the performance of Nocturnal after John Dowland, op. 70 (1963) by Benjamin Britten. I have to admit, maybe to my embarrassment, that I wasn’t familiar with the piece. I am not surprised to learn though, that it is considered one of the major works for solo guitar written in the XX Century. The piece is stunning, hauntingly beautiful and feels like someone taking you by the hand and walking you around marvelous landscapes, imagined cathedrals and pure souls. It is also technically demanding but Zane overcame almost all of the apparent difficulties to deliver a performance full of nuance and sense of good taste.

After a short break, which allowed all in the audience to take their breath, Zane finished the concert with three improvisations on electric guitar. The immediacy of his playing and the innovative and fearless spirit of Mr. Merritt’s “mind at work” demonstrated his versatility as a performer and, in this case, as a composer.

Last, but not least, I would like especially to emphasize the atmosphere created at Pausa Art House by its “protagonists” – Jon Nelson, formidable musician and entrepreneur and his beautiful wife, Lázara Nelson. They are respectively the Artistic Director and Managing Director of this wonderful place at the heart of Buffalo.

If you haven’t visited it yet, I strongly urge you to do so. Judging by the quality and calibre of the performers they are booking that the place will be a hot spot for new music and other intellectual and emotional deliciousness.

I am including links to their website as well as a link to some of Mr. Merritt’s music below.

Pausa Art House website 

Zane Merritt’s music