Thursday, February 13, 2020

Milo Ensemble – Live (2019)

Milo Ensemble

Milo Kurtis - clarinet
Misza Kinsner - saxophone
Bartosz Smoragiewicz - saxophone
Adab Chamoun - percussion
Bart Palyga - sarangi / vocals
Mateusz Szemraj - oud


MILO 305

By Adam Baruch

This is a live recording by the ensemble led by Polish (of Greek origin) multi-instrumentalist / composer / band leader Milo Kurtis, which includes some of the top World Music musicians active in Poland, all of whom are multi-instrumentalists playing authentic acoustic instruments originating from many different corners of the world. They are: saxophonists Misza Kinsner and Bartosz Smoragiewicz, percussionist Adeb Chamoun, multi-instrumentalist / vocalist Bart Palyga and oud player Mateusz Szemraj. The album presents eleven original compositions, eight of which were composed by Kurtis, one was co-composed by him and Smoragiewicz and one each were composed by Smoragiewicz and Palyga. I had the pleasure not only to be present at the Polish Radio Agnieszka Osiecka Studio, where this album was recorded, but even introduced the ensemble to the public before the concert started.

The album faithfully captures the music that was played during that evening, which was mostly improvised on the basis of the pre-composed themes, completely acoustic and deeply spiritual, with Kurtis directing the ensemble but allowing the individual players to venture into extensive improvisations, and eventually bringing them back into the structured framework. Amazingly everything worked out beautifully together and the superb sound quality and separation allows the listener to hear every tiny detail within the complex wall of sound created by the six musicians.

In comparison to the earlier recordings by Kurtis, the music on this album is less Jazz oriented per se and is much more atmospheric, venturing into Improvised Music idiom, but more form the World music direction rather than from the Jazz direction. As a result this album emerges as one of the most successful achievements in his substantial recording legacy. Of course this is not only due to the compositions and direction setting done by the leader but also thanks to the amazing talents of the participation musicians, who offer a vast kaleidoscope of sounds, instruments and influences, more extensive than what Kurtis ever managed to collect within one ensemble.

Overall this is probably the most impressive Jazz-World Fusion album released in Poland in 2019 and a most significant addition to the important recorded legacy of Milo Kurtis, who remains, after many years of activity, to be at the vortex of creativity and activity of the Polish musical scene, hopefully for many years to come. Se efcharistó file mou!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Annie Chen Octet – Secret Treetop (2018)

Annie Chen Octet

Rafał Sarnecki - guitar
and others

Secret Treetop

PRIVATE EDITION 9787799319759

By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by Chinese (resident in US) Jazz vocalist / songwriter Annie Chen recorded with her octet, which includes Polish (resident in US) guitarist Rafal Sarnecki, who was in charge of the arrangements, except in one case. The album presents nine tracks, seven of which are original compositions by Chen featuring her lyrics (in English), except for one tune which features wordless vocalese, and two are arrangements of folk songs with lyrics in Chinese.

The music is quite complex, richly orchestrated and excellently performed by the octet. Surprisingly it shows relatively little influence of Far Eastern motifs, even in the folklore based tunes, and the Chinese vocals are the only real connection with Chen's roots.

Chen offers an original approach to vocals, mixing effectively lyrics and vocalese, and as a result turns her voice into one of the instruments of the octet. Her approach to vocals, and in fact the entire aesthetics of the album are unexpectedly non-American, much closer to what one might expect from European Jazz, which is probably due mostly to Sarnecki's approach to the arrangements and Chen's open-mindedness.

Overall this is an excellent album, full of unusual, highly intelligent music, superb vocals and instrumental performances by all the members of the octet, and most importantly a breath of fresh air in the dull mainstream vocal Jazz produced usually in the US. This gem is definitely worth investigating!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Marcin Pater Trio – Nothing But Trouble (2019)

Marcin Pater

Marcin Pater - vibraphone
Mateusz Szewczyk - bass
Adam Wajdzik - drums

Nothing But Trouble

EMME 1917

By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by young Polish Jazz vibraphonist/composer Marcin Pater recorded in a trio format with bassist Mateusz Szewczyk and drummer Adam Wajdzik. Guitarist Jakub Mizeracki guests on three tracks. The album presents nine original compositions, eight of which were composed by Pater and one co-composed by him with other musician. The album was released by the Italian label Emme Records, as the result of the trio winning the first prize at the 2018 Jazz Juniors competition in Krakow.

The music is a wonderful amalgam of cross-genre explorations, moving between modern mainstream Jazz and Jazz-Rock Fusion, based on beautifully melodic themes. The level of all the compositions is truly excellent and very surprising considering the young age of the composer. The three tracks featuring Mizeracki are understandably much more Fusion oriented, due to the dominating sound of the electric guitar, whereas the trio tracks are much more airy and atmospheric.

Pater emerges as a surprising vibraphone Master, playing with remarkable confidence and technical proficiency. Every strike of his mallets is precise and superbly expressive, using sustain and delicate variations of the pressure to produce a wonderful palette of sounds. It is truly heartwarming to see the much neglected instrument finally being treated with respect and virtuosity it deserves.

The rest of the crew is also excellent of course. Szewczyk and Wajdzik support the leader with swinging fluidity and Mizeracki adds another layer to the music, stirring things up with his edgy approach, but also remarkable flexibility. Altogether the trio/quartet present a clockwork precision and a velvety sound, which work like a dream.

The album brings on some fond nostalgic memories or early Gary Burton quartet featuring Larry Coryell (or the birth of Fusion), which are still some of best examples of vibraphone virtuosity not related to Bebop. Overall a very impressive debut album, perhaps not very innovative musically, but very refreshing and focusing on a neglected and much loved instrument, which definitely put this album in the short list of best Polish Jazz debuts for 2019. Well done and definitely worth investigating!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ted Novak – Runit (2019)

Ted Novak

Ted Novak - guitar
Jan Smoczyński - organ
Krzysztof Pacan - bass
Paweł Dobrowolski - drums



By Adam Baruch

This is the third album by Polish guitarist/composer Ted Novak, this time recorded in a quartet setting with organist Jan Smoczyński, bassist Krzysztof Pacan and drummer Paweł Dobrowolski. The album presents eight original compositions, all by Novak. The music was recorded at the excellent Studio Tokarnia and engineered by Smoczynski, with the usual superb sound quality.

The music is a mixture floating between Jazz, Jazz-Rock Fusion, Blues-Rock, and even Progressive Rock, featuring extensive improvisations by Novak and Smoczynski wonderfully supported by the rhythm section. The retro sound and overall sonic ambience of the recording create an impression that the music might have been recorded decades ago, when guitar/organ based ensembles ruled the world of Rock and Prog and even Jazz to some extent.

Novak is able to weave superb tunes, which are unique both in their harmonic approach and rhythmic complexity and as such are ideal vehicle for improvisations without loosing their melodic contents. The stylistic diversity of the tunes on the album turns it into a fascinating listening experience which is over in a blink of an eye.

All four musicians are veterans with attested achievements, which are fully illustrated by the performances on this album. Smoczynski's organ playing is absolutely brilliant and one can only lament that he makes relatively few recordings featuring his organ "shenanigans". Novak is more reserved on this album in comparison to the predecessors, which enables the listener to be exposed to his more lyrical side. Pacan and Dobrowolski are a perfectly oiled swing machine, which keeps the music afloat and sparkling at all times.

Overall this is a very unique, in today's standards, album, which offers an adventurous cross-genre journey through guitar/organ dominated music, which is a most pleasing listening experience, especially for people with affiliation with Jazz/Fusion/Rock originating on the 1960s. Well done again!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Radek Wośko Atlantic Quartet – Surge (2019)

Radek Wośko Atlantic Quartet

Stian Swensson - guitar
Søren Gemmer - piano
Mariusz Praśniewski - bass
Radek Wośko - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by Polish Jazz drummer/composer Radek Wośko and his Atlantic Quartet, which includes Norwegian (resident in Copenhagen) guitarist Stian Swensson (who replaced Israeli Gilad Hekselman who played on the debut), Danish pianist Søren Gemmer and Polish bassist Mariusz Praśniewski. The album presents eleven original compositions, eight composed by Wośko and three co-composed by all four members of the quartet.

The music, although sonically continuing the guitar dominated Fusion ambience of the debut, is way more open and offers significant proximity to European Jazz elements, including the Nordic loftiness and Polish lyricism, two of the most powerful ingredients of modern European Jazz. It is great to find Wośko finally approaching his "natural" elements in his music, which combined with his maturity and experience accumulated over time and his excellent compositions come all together on this album.

The playing is also excellent all the way, with the two Scandinavian melody weavers leading the way with confidence and finesse. Swensson is a wonderful surprise (sadly I failed to hear his debut album so far) and steps easily into Hekselman's shoes with complete confidence. His playing is the most significant color of the music, but he respectfully leaves space for his cohorts to have their say. He can be firm and decisive but also delicate and considerate, showing great sensitivity. Gemmer is a superbly lyrical player and his sense of melody and atmospheric vistas are simply hair-rising. Praśniewski offers both a solid bottom filling to the quartet's sound and a significant rhythmic drive. Wośko offers inventive and supportive drumming parts, especially significant during the open/almost free compositions, but does not dominate the music, staying respectfully in-line with the other quartet members.

The album is a wonderful example of the ideal balance between melody and order and freedom and open space, which is always so difficult to achieve without pulling the music one way or another; one could almost say that it is case study of such vague and evasive musical phenomenon. Overall this is a beautiful and superbly executed album, for me definitely the best recording by Wośko so far and a gate of hope for his future endeavors. This quartet is a formidable team, which exemplifies the best there is in contemporary, still young but already mature European Jazz. Well done!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

trio_io - Waves (2019)


Zofia Ilnicka - flute
Łukasz Marciniak - electric guitar
Jakub Wosik - violin



By Andrzej Nowak

Trójka młodych, polskich muzyków proponuje intrygujący melanż post-gatunkowej, inteligentnie zdefiniowanej improwizacji. Radzą sobie z tą pokrętną materią niezwykle przebiegle, a nic, co boskie, nie jest im obce. Niemal trzy kwadranse zmysłowej zabawy w dźwięk, w dziewięciu częściach opatrzonych tytułami. Zapraszam koniecznie!

Wita nas fonia amplifikatora, który cicho pracuje. Dźwięki snują się płaskim dronem, pełnym niepokoju, mroku, pewnej analogowej niepewności, co do ciągu dalszego. Po niedługiej chwili wiemy już, że na scenie są trzy instrumenty. Sustained piece as well! Roztańczone fale radiowe na końcu świata rzeczywistego – podpowiada wyobraźnia recenzenta. Skrzypce i flet jakby śpiewały, gitara rozdziera szaty pod nimi, a aura oniryzmu zmysłowo pożera narrację. Druga pieśń stawia na suchą akustykę. Bukiet dźwięków najrozmaitszych – drżenie struny, tuba fletu, gryf gitary, przedmioty. Wolna kameralistyka na otwartej przestrzeni. Garść mikrofaz, pytania i odpowiedzi. 

Na starcie trzeciej opowieści flet śpiewa o porzuconej miłości. Ckliwe pasaże o semickim posmaku, w towarzystwie depresyjnego smyczka. Delikatność i drapieżność w tym samym niemal momencie. Szczypta rytmicznej inspiracji ze strony łagodnej gitary. Taniec, który wyzbywa się smutku, ale nie do końca. Czwarta część, podobnie jak druga, budowana trochę na zasadzie kontrastu – ucieczka od harmonii, pląsy, akcje i reakcje, twórczy chaos swobodnej improwizacji z elementami elektroakustyki. Post-gitarowy rezonans i płacz na strunach skrzypiec. Śpiew fletu i basowe pulsacje u samego dołu. Piąta historia - matowe skrzypce, akcenty percussion na gryfie gitary i flet, który szuka zaczepki. Dobra szkoła brytyjskiego free improv z wyważoną dawką preparacji - podpowiada google research. 

Szósta piosenka i wolt stylistycznych ciąg dalszy – electro pulsar, harmonia, melodia i metaforyczny śpiew na nieistniejących ustach fletu. Gitara frazuje wręcz post-jazzowo, skrzypce odrabiają zadanie domowe z free chamber, aura zagubionej, rockowej estetyki także staje się udziałem muzyków. Po małej kulminacji, narracja gaśnie magią potencjometru. Po szóstej czas na siódmą opowieść, którą na wejściu kreuje modulowany ambient gitary. Struny stroszą pióra, flet buduje mikro dron. Znów posmak kameralistyki, stylowy, ładny i intensywnie niepokojący. 

Ósma część i drobna zabawa improwizacyjna, czyniona metodą call & responce! Akord gitary, pląsy fletu, cisza skrzypiec. Po chwili temperatura narracji rośnie, cała trójka rusza w imitacyjne tango, które wieńczy rockowa niemalże kipiel. Tuż po niej ślad ciszy i basowy przester gitary. Repetycja w kierunku dobrego zakończenia. Ostatnia część "Waves" zdaje się kontynuować pomysł części ósmej – taneczna repetycja gitary, małe śpiewy po góralsku. Rytm, bijące serce, zwarty półgalop. Free after rock with chamber taste! – językiem Szekspira recenzent puentuje tę wyjątkowo smakowitą płytę.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Gorczynski/Palmer/Wiracki – A Soul Not All Of Wood (2019)


Michał Górczyński - bass clarinet
Sean Palmer - vocals
Tomasz Wiracki - piano

A Soul Not All Of Wood


By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by the trio comprising of Polish Jazz clarinetist / composer Michal Gorczynski, British (resident in Warsaw) actor / vocalist Sean Palmer and Polish pianist Tomasz Wiracki, which apparently decided to call the trio William`s Things after the name of their debut album. Same as with the debut, this is also a kind of Jazz & Poetry project, this time based on the writings of the American poet / philosopher Henry David Thoreau. The album presents eleven compositions, all by Gorczynski, to texts by Thoreau, a pioneering environmentalist and ecologist.

In complete contrast to the debut album, the musical approach on this album is almost completely "conventional", with all the pieces being basically melodic songs, in most cases accompanied only by the piano and with minimal instrumental contributions by Gorczynski. Having said that, the music and the entire concept are excellent from start to finish and Gorczynski again proves to be a superb weaver of melodies and moods and an Artistic spirit of great importance on the local scene.

The minimalistic approach is also present in Wiracki's playing, which is devout of any improvisation and offers harmonic chord accompaniment to the singing only. As a result the focus of this album lands almost entirely on Palmer's shoulders, and he uses his theatric training and abilities to express the deeply emotional charge of some of these pieces, although most of the songs are contemplative and calm.

Overall this is a very powerful piece of music, even if most of it reserved and minimalist, exemplifying the "less is more" concept to the max. Even if the English texts somewhat limit the audience to English native speakers, which on the Polish scene is a bit problematic, as usual with Poetry & Jazz projects these limitations can be transcended by the sheer Artistic power of the music. The trio manages to create a distinct niche for its Artistic endeavors, which is highly commendable.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Claman / Strycharski / Chojnacki / Prats – Quartet Non Locality (2019)

Claman / Strycharski / Chojnacki / Prats

Dominik Strycharski - flute
Zbignieew Chojnacki - accordion
and others

Quartet Non Locality


By Adam Baruch

This is an album by international Improvising Music ensemble Quartet Non Locality consisting of New Zealand (resident in Barcelona) violinist Sarah Claman, Polish flautist Dominik Strycharski and accordionist Zbigniew Chojnacki and Catalan drummer Ramon Prats. The album presents seven improvised pieces not attributed to specific composers.

The album is a part of the "Spontaneous Music Tribune Series" dedicated to Iberian Free Improvised Music, curated by my friend and colleague Maciej Lewenstein, who lives in Barcelona since many years and who is a passionate music lover in parallel to his scientific career.

The music is a typical Improvised Music experience, which sadly suffers from the characteristic recorded Improvised Music malady, which haunts most albums of the genre. This music might have been highly interesting for the musicians to play, and perhaps might have been a fascinating live experience, but is much less interesting to listen to at home from a record and is unable, at least to me, to recreate that potential excitement, closed in a recorded time capsule. Sadly since making a recording and releasing albums have become accessible and inexpensive in the last two decades, there is a deluge of Improvised Music albums on the market, which only under rare circumstances make a lasting statement and deserve repeated listening.

Strycharski and Chojnacki are both formidable musicians and have already created numerous excellent recordings, but sadly on this album one can hardly find significant evidence of their individual abilities. Although I painstakingly listened to this music, enjoying some fragments, I don't envisage myself doing it again. Overall this is perhaps of interest to the hardened Improvised Music enthusiasts, who are deeply enthralled by the intricacies of the genre, but for listeners beyond that intimate circle it is most probably impenetrable.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Tomasz Wendt – Chapter B. (2019)

Tomasz Wendt

Tomasz Wendt - saxophone
Mateusz Smoczynski - violin
Jan Smoczynski - keyboards
Pawel Dobrowolski - drums

Chapter B.

SJ 047

By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Tomasz Wendt recorded in a quartet setting with excellent partners: violinist Mateusz Smoczynski, keyboardist Jan Smoczynski and drummer Pawel Dobrowolski. The album presents eight original compositions, all by Wendt. The music was recorded at the superb Studio Tokarnia and was engineered by Jan Smoczynski, with the usual spectacular sound quality.

The music is modern European Jazz at its best, melody based but allowing for extensive improvisations and odd meters, creating diverse sonic vistas by taking advantage of the unusual instrumental lineup. The melodies are all well structured and coherent, full of romanticism and melancholy, and yet lively and exciting, with often complex rhythm changes.

The instrumental work by all the participants is absolutely amazing. Wendt matured and achieved a wonderful tonality over time, Mateusz Smoczynski is absolutely amazing as always and his soloing on this album is especially welcome as it has been a while since he recorded in a pure Jazz environment. Jan Smoczynski, the older brother, not only plays some great keyboard parts but also provides the bass lines. Dobrowolski, who needs to take care of all the rhythmic duties, is also brilliant, which is hardly surprising.

Overall this album simply explodes with great musicianship and excellent compositions, creating a most enjoyable listening experience, in spite of its non-trivial instrumentation and rhythmic complexity. It should be accessible to the majority of true Jazz connoisseurs and will also raise a few brows, as it offers a very novel instrumentation and highly unusual sound. Well done indeed!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anna Gadt/Marcin Olak - Gombrowicz (2020)

Anna Gadt/Marcin Olak

Anna Gadt - voice
Marcin Olak - guitars


HEVHETIA 0196-2-331

By Krzysztof Komorek

Dwoje artystów, których cenię, a  nawet lubię, spotyka trzeciego, za którym, eufemistycznie mówiąc, nie przepadam. Co z tego wyniknie? Który z elementów przeważy i zdominuje moje odczucia wobec płyty? Owym "trzecim" jest Witold Gombrowicz, do którego twórczości od dawna nie mogę się przekonać. Jednak moje więcej niż pozytywne nastawienie do nagrań Anny Gadt oraz Marcina spowodowało, że zdecydowałem się zmierzyć z albumem, któremu pisarz dał inspirację i tytuł.
Okazało się – notabene nie pierwszy raz – że Gombrowicz "przetworzony" artystycznie staje się dla mnie całkowicie akceptowalny. Pisarz jest tutaj oczywiście obecny poprzez swoje słowa, ale tak naprawdę przede wszystkim jest – jak już wspomniałem – inspiracją, patronem całego przedsięwzięcia. Wpływającym oczywiście na klimat całości, jednakże gombrowiczowska materia opakowana w formę, w której muzyka ma największe znaczenie, nie dominuje i nie przytłacza.  

Ta płyta jest w moim odczuciu raczej opowieścią o Gombrowiczu, a nie tylko przełożeniem jego twórczości na muzyczny język. To również obraz fascynacji pisarzem ze strony muzyków. Nie udawanej, czy też będącej efektem wyrachowania, ale w pełni autentycznej. Trzeba bowiem swojego bohatera nie tylko znać, ale i bardzo lubić, aby tak znakomicie przedstawić go publiczności, nawet w tych niezbyt pozytywnych dla niego aspektach. 

Nie wiedziałem, czego się spodziewać po tym albumie. Efekt uśmierzył moje obawy i przerósł najśmielsze oczekiwania. Kapitalna symbioza duetu. Znakomite operowanie literacką materią przedsięwzięcia. Fantastyczne zespolenie słowa i dźwięków. Nie myślcie sobie, że dostaniecie piosenki z gitarowym podkładem i wyjątkami z prozy Gombrowicza. Anna Gadt i Marcin Olak stworzyli mistrzowski przykład współczesnej improwizacji. Stało się więc tak, że pochłonąłem "Gombrowicza" jednym tchem. Pięćdziesiąt sześć minut. Dwanaście utworów. Głos i gitary. Minimalistyczne środki, które dały efekt niezwykły i znakomity. 

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