Monday, March 2, 2015

Stephen McHale – Weird Glitches (2014)

Stephen McHale

Stephen McHale - guitar
Piotr Orzechowski - keyboard

and others

Weird Glitches


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by Irish guitarist/composer Stephen McHale, currently residing in Valencia, like many other young European Jazz musicians who study an/or teach at the local branch of the Berklee School of Music. The album was recorded with fellow Berklee cohorts, like Polish keyboardist Piotr Orzechowski, Spanish keyboardist Ricardo Curto, Ecuadorian bassist Daniel Toledo, British drummer Joshua Wheatley and several others. The album presets eight tracks, seven of which are original compositions by McHale and one is a standard by Wayne Shorter, arranged by Toledo.

From the very first note of this album it becomes immediately apparent that McHale is a "different" guitarist, with a superb individual sound and attitude, which supported by his outstanding compositions create a rare musical experience in a world filled by hordes of wannabe guitar stars. Throughout the album McHale demonstrates an astounding diversity and versatility, which spans everything from melodic lyricism, to avant-garde distortion, a truly unusual phenomenon.

The seven original pieces are all fabulously crafted and fondly remind me of the compositions by John McLaughlin, who is my favorite guitar composer (and player of course), because he is "thinking" about guitar and its myriad of sounds when he composes music. This is about the highest compliment I can pay to the young McHale, hoping to hear more of his creations in the not too distant future.

It is difficult to define this music stylistically; the electric guitar, keyboards and bass immediately suggest Jazz-Rock Fusion, but on the other hand there are not that many classic Fusion elements present here, so perhaps Electric Jazz is more appropriate. Regardless of the genre associations, this is simply some of the best music I have heard in quite a while in that particular aesthetic proximity and it is a blast to listen to from start to finish.

It must be said that McHale gets a truly outstanding support by the team of musicians, who play on this album, many of which are already stars of their own, like Orzechowski, who is taking the Polish Jazz scene by storm and who gets my unvarying support for his work since his first steps. But all the other players herein are simply a dream team in every respect, and without them this album would not be as perfect as it is.

To summarize, this is a most impressive and exhilarating debut release that deserves all the attention it can get, and one that surely will make many guitar enthusiasts extremely happy, if not immediately than surely in time, as it takes a while to absorb and appreciate the Artistry involved. Hats off!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Aga Derlak Trio – First Thought (2015)

Aga Derlak Trio

Aga Derlak - piano
Tymon Trąbczyński - bass
Bartosz Szabłowski - drums

First Thought


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by a young Polish Jazz trio led by pianist/composer Aga Derlak with bassist Tymon Trąbczyński and drummer Bartosz Szabłowski. The album presents five lengthy original compositions, all by Derlak.

It takes a lot of courage to take the bold step of recording a debut album in the classic piano trio format and play one's original compositions, like Derlak and her cohorts do on this album. Piano trio is a "naked" environment, where every note, every nuance, even every touch of the keyboard is perfectly audible with absolutely nothing to hide behind. Such endeavors are often quite risky and perilous and therefore I'm happy to say that in this particular case the courage pays off big time.

The music is mostly very lyrical and melancholic, almost meditative, even on the mid/up tempo compositions. The melodic statements played as the usual at the entry point of each track develop into lengthy improvised passages, which feature extensive dialogues between the piano and the rhythm section, which gets much more exposure on this album that usually accepted on piano trio albums. Trąbczyński and Szabłowski both perform wonderfully throughout, using the almost universal approach in today's young piano trios, where the bass is actually playing the rhythm and the drums are allowed to play "around", often polyrhythmically. There is an obvious empathy and comradeship between the trio members, which is always the best glue which turns musicians into one harmonious entity.

Of course not everything is perfect, which is quite understandable considering the age of these young Lions and a Lioness. The extensive improvisations, which last on three of the tracks well over ten minutes, are honestly a bit over the top. It takes a lifetime of playing Jazz to be able to keep an audience on the edge for ten continuous minutes… Perhaps inclusion of at least a couple of additional tunes and shortening the timings considerably would have produced an even more impressive album? But of course these are just my personal musings.

Overall this is a most impressive debut, which hopefully will be followed by many more mature albums in the future. I intend to follow the careers of these youngsters, as they are surely a promising bunch. Well done Lady and Gentlemen!

Apostolis Anthimos – Days We Can`t Forget (1994)

Apostolis Anthimos

Apostolis Anthimos - guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums
Gil Goldstein - piano, rhodes, accordion
Jim Beard - piano, rhodes
Matthew Garrison - bass guitar
Paul Wertico - drums, percussion
Sugar Blue - harmonica (8)

Days We Can`t Forget


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album as a leader by Polish (of Greek origin) guitarist/composer Apostolis Anthimos. The album (except for one track) was recorded in NY and features a dreamy lineup of well known American Fusion players: keyboardists Gil Goldstein and Jim Beard, bassist Matthew Garrison and drummer Paul Wertico. Harmonica player Sugar Blue guests on one track. The album consists of eight tracks, five of which are original compositions by Anthimos and three are Jazz standards.

The music hides no surprises and reveals a very well played Fusion, with many excellent solos and a nice melodic flow. It is quite different stylistically from what Anthimos played with SBB, which is more Blues and Rock oriented. It is really great to hear a different, Jazzier Anthimos, more relaxed and obviously happy with the result. Also his skills as a composer are fully exposed here, showing that he is perfectly capable of weaving nice, elegant tunes.

After years of standing in the limelight of SBB, Anthimos finally proves that he is capable of playing his own music and following his heart. This album lost nothing of its charm and beauty over time and still sounds great a couple of decades after it was originally released. For Polish Fusion fans this is an absolute must, but basically any Fusion fan anywhere on this planet should enjoy this album in full.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zbigniew Seifert – Live In Hamburg 1978 (2006)

Zbigniew Seifert

Zbigniew Seifert - violin
Charlie Mariano - tenor saxophone
Wolfgang Dauner - piano, keyboards
Branislav "Lala" Kovacev - drums
NDR Big Band

Live In Hamburg 1978


By Adam Baruch

This is a sensational live recording by Polish Jazz violinist/composer Zbigniew Seifert and his quartet, which includes American (resident in Germany) saxophonist Charlie Mariano, German pianist Wolfgang Dauner and Yugoslav (also resident in Germany) drummer Branislav Kovacev, accompanied by the NDR Big Band from Hamburg. The album comprises of five tracks, which are simply named "Hamaburg 1" to "Hamaburg 5". The discographical data, such as exact place and date of recording and composition credits are omitted and the album looks and feels like a bootleg, although it is openly sold in Poland.

This music was recorded about a year before Seifert's untimely death as a victim of cancer. In spite of his terrible sufferings and ordeals related to his rapidly advancing illness, he was at an absolute peak of his musical ability, as this recording plainly demonstrates. He plays vigorously and with incredible passion, and his lengthy solos on this album are among his best ever. Supported by the wonderful quartet and accompanied by the best European Big Band, Seifert is able to immerse himself completely in the music, without any limitations. The result reflects his great love of life and music, which he tried to pursue until the very last moments of his life.

Of course Mariano, Dauner and Kovacev, who were among the finest musicians on the European scene at the time, as well as the outstanding NDR Big Band, are all performing splendidly as well. Stylistically the music includes many elements of Jazz-Rock Fusion and World Music influences, an amalgam that characterized Seifert's late period. However, his solos are still characterized by the influence of John Coltrane's legacy, which was the singular most important inspiration on Seifert's music.

The historic importance of this album is simply invaluable, especially in view of the sadly very limited recorded legacy of Seifert's works. Seifert managed to record only four albums as a leader during his tragically short lifetime, and the posthumously released material is of secondary importance so far. There are many hours of unreleased music recorded by Seifert waiting to be released, and hopefully those will see the light of day at some stage.

For Polish Jazz fans this album is an absolute must of course, but listeners interested in Jazz violin and anybody who is able to appreciate some of the most moving moments offered within the Jazz idiom should also try to get their hands on this gem ASAP. Absolutely brilliant stuff!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gorzycki & Dobie - Nothing - premiera 28.02.2015

Gorzycki & Dobie

Jonathan Dobie - guitar
Rafał Gorzycki - drums, percussion


Requiem 86/2015

Duet Rafała Gorzyckiego i londyńskiego gitarzysty Jonathana Dobie'ego - "Nothing" to ostatnia, trzecia część tryptyku duetów Gorzyckiego. Po albumie z 2013 roku ze skrzypkiem Sebastianem Gruchotem - "Experimental Psychology" oraz "Therapy", nagranego live w 2012 roku także z gitarzysta Kamilem Paterem, przyszedł czas na finał. Premiera albumu 28.02.2015 na Jazz Od Nowa Festival w Toruniu.

Rafał Gorzycki jest zaliczany do najważniejszych, najbardziej twórczych muzyków jazzowych, kompozytorów i perkusistów w Polsce oraz Europie. Współtworzone przez Gorzyckiego zespoły Sing Sing Penelope, Ecstasy Project i Dziki Jazz A-kineton to jedne z najważniejszych muzycznych składów ostatniej dekady, które przyczyniły się do zmiany pokoleniowej w polskim jazzie. Rafał Gorzycki konsekwentnie promuje kraj, występując na scenach i festiwalach całej Europy, Azji i USA, wydając swoje autorskie albumy wyróżniane przez media w Europie i USA. Jest on także laureatem wielu nagród i wyróżnień artystycznych, Stypendium Ministra Kultury, Nagroda Artystyczna Prezydenta Bydgoszczy, Fryderyki 2010 - Nominacja i wiele innych.

Jonathan Dobie - Urodził się w 1956 roku w Londynie, gdzie mieszka w czasie kiedy nie podróżuje i nie koncertuje w Europie. Jest laureatem kilku brytyjskich nagród artystycznych, w tym ufundowanej przez British Council. Udziela się w wielu projektach muzycznych: Trio Peter Brotzman with Shoi Hano, B-shops for the Poor, Sonicphonics, Interference 3.0, Dynamix i wiele innych.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jazzpospolita – Almost Splendid (2010)


Michał Przerwa-Tetmajer - guitar
Michał Załęski - keyboards
Stefan Nowakowski - bass
Wojciech Oleksiak -drums

 Almost Splendid


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by Polish group Jazzpospolita, which consists of guitarist Michał Przerwa-Tetmajer, keyboardist Michał Załęski, bassist Stefan Nowakowski and drummer Wojtek Oleksiak. The album presents nine original compositions (ten tracks with one tune repeated as a remix), all assumedly co-composed by all four band members.

As it sometimes happens, I listened to this album after being already familiar with the band's later work, therefore I can only imagine what my reaction would have been if I listened to it at the time of its release a few years earlier. Speculations aside, it still is a pretty amazing piece of music and a stunning debut. Arriving on such a busy scene as the Polish Jazz and alternative Rock with a spectacular, fresh and innovative album, which is completely different from almost anything that is already there, is truly remarkable.

This album defines the musical "language", which the group follows since its inception, which is quite difficult to define verbally. It is a mixture of melodic Ambient Music with Jazz improvisations, Rock rhythmic patterns and alternative Rock sonorities, which sounds simply different from anything else. For people desperately in need of known references from the past, it is somewhat comparable to the music released on the legendary "Buddha Bar" series, with many of the Chill-out and Lounge elements present but with the World Music references replaced by Jazzier vibes.

Regardless of the similarities, which might serve as points of reference, this music is fresh, exciting and sophisticated, which by itself is already quite rare. Combined with delicate melodic themes and first-class execution this album is by all means a very important step on the local music scene, proving that excellent music can be accessible to a large population of listeners, without even a hint of compromise and selling out.

In the last few days I have listened to this album repeatedly and I'm pretty sure it's there to stay on my short playlist for a while. Anybody not familiar with Jazzpospolita should definitely seek this little gem out ASAP and follow with their later albums. As far as I am concerned there is absolutely no "almost" involved herein; Splendid indeed!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mack Goldsbury Quartet feat. Maciej Fortuna – Active Rush (2013)

Mack Goldsbury Quartet/Maciej Fortuna

Mack Goldsbury - tenor & soprano saxophones
Maciej Fortuna - trumpet, flugelhorn
Shaun Mahoney - guitar
Erik Unsworth - bass
Ricky Malichi - drums

Active Rush

FM 014

By Adam Baruch

This album presents a collection of six live and one studio recordings by the American Jazz quartet led by saxophonist Mack Goldsbury and including guitarist Shaun Mahoney, bassist Erik Unsworth and drummer Ricky Malichi, which also features as a guest soloist the excellent Polish Jazz trumpeter Maciej Fortuna. This quintet recorded and released a couple of albums earlier on. The album presents seven original compositions, five by Mahoney and one each by Goldsbury and Fortuna.

I have never managed to figure out why Fortuna plays with this quartet, which is an epitome of American mainstream, devoid of any ambition or interest. He is by far a much more talented and skillful player than any of his partners herein and the music he plays with his own ensembles is infinitely more interesting and far-reaching. However, since this is his choice, we should respect it and decide if we want to listen to it or not.

Of course American mainstream spiced up by a brilliant trumpeter can not be all that bad and many Jazz listeners can enjoy this music in full. These are decent tunes and the playing is professional and vigorous, so there is plenty to like if you are into that kind of Jazz. Personally I'd rather wait for the next "proper" recording by Fortuna.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kuba Pluzek - Eleven Songs (2015)

Kuba Płużek

Kuba Płużek - piano

Eleven Songs

V Records 007

By Maciej Nowotny 

Few weeks ago I walked by one of the main streets of my beloved Warsaw and was encompassed by usual in this city clamour, uproar and noise. Everything around me was rushing forward with people ruthlessly elbowing their way up the pavements. While down there cars were spiralling around traffic jammed crossroads above my head the planes were flying away in flocks to their big world cities destinations. But I was cold as a stone and empty as a hole inside. Tired after very busy week I was counting all the money I earned but could not work out exactly what for? When suddenly I heard something different. It was a female voice and being a die hard fan of Italian opera I immediately recognized immortal aria of Amneris "Morir mi sento" from Verdi's "Aida". My imagination exploded and the miracle happened: all turmoil around me slowly recessed and as if some beacon of light from the skies I was led away by this song back home. I parked the car by my house, entered the hall and as usually checked the mailbox. That day I found in it only one album, I unwrapped it and read the title: "11 Songs".

What a strange coincidence! - that was my first thought. I immediately started to listen to the album and was virtually knocked down by the same din I just barely had escaped. Taken aback by Fazioli grand piano racket I shut down the player and went for a bottle of wine. The evening came and with some hesitation I returned to the music. But this time again I heard them: like sirens tempting the Odysseus songs appeared. Some of them well known like themes from movies (from "Inception" or legendary Polish series "Polskie drogi"), others penned by Michel Petrucciani, Brad Mehldau, Dave Holland, Zbigniew Wegehaupt and Płużek himself. All played with so characteristic for Kuba all-or-nothing attitude which manifests itself not in revolutionary form but rather in emotions laid bare, throbbing as a living creature, soft, wet, unfolding its wings and ready to fly. High. Very high. 

By far the most interesting Polish jazz release so far in this year 2015 and very strong candidate for one of the best albums of the whole year. Congratulations to Kuba and Adam Domagała from V Records.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mikołaj Trzaska/Devin Hoff/Michael Zerang - Sleepless In Chicago (2013)


Mikołaj Trzaska - alto saxophone
Devin Hoff - double bass
Michael Zerang - drums

Sleepless In Chicago


By John Sharpe

With Poland proving such a welcoming venue for so many of Chicago's finest, it's no surprise to see a little quid pro quo from time to time. Reedman Mikołaj Trzaska, one of his country's most forward thinking players, has collaborated with various visiting Americans, most notably Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark, but it is as a member of the latter's Resonance Ensemble that he may be best known. The two side long cuts on the LP "Sleepless In Chicago" each stem from a run of Resonance Ensemble concerts in the Windy City in March 2011 and August 2012, which also included space for smaller subsets of the whole unit.

Completing the trio alongside Trzaska are two stalwarts of the home town scene: Michael Zerang on drums and Devin Hoff on bass. Zerang constituted one of the dual powerhouses for Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet since its inception in 1997, while Hoff brought an avant rock and jazz background to the Nels Cline Singers and currently features in Vandermark's Made To Break quartet. On his husky toned alto saxophone Trzaska mixes staccato phrases and melodies with expressive textures beyond notation to forge an emotionally charged voice. Together they create an egalitarian group music founded on unbridled interaction. 

Named after the nightspots in which they were recorded, each piece goes through a variety of free jazz moods. "Elastic" begins with great yearning waves of sound from the Pole. Fast walking bass and a busy pulse of drum rolls and sizzling cymbals suggest an urgency, as if to make an immediate impression (and the audience noise audible in the quiet parts indicates that might indeed have been necessary). Skylark more resembles the relaxed exchanges of Trzaska's excellent "Riverloam Trio" (NoBusiness, 2012), as the saxophonist's repeated opening motif slides into a series of overblown trills, over a poised but knotty backing. At 39-minutes the program both showcases a fertile vehicle for Trzaska in the future and leaves the listener wanting more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Małe Instrumenty - Walce w walce (2014)

Małe Instrumenty

Paweł Romańczuk
Marcin Ożóg
Tomasz Orszulak
Jędrek Kuziela
Maciej Bączyk

Walce w walce

By Bartosz Nowicki

Walc na długie lata pozostawał na cenzurowanym, postrzegany jako nośnik bluźnierczych, szatańskich treści oraz niezdrowych namiętności. W czasach, kiedy ta muzyczno-taneczna forma pozostawała rozrywką prowincji i pospólstwa, straszono, że jego obrotowa natura wywołuje u ludzi chorobę św. Walentego (daleką od romantycznych powinowactw), a w niektórych przypadkach prowadzić może nawet do śmierci tańczących nieszczęśników. Jednak, jak to w historii mód i obyczajów bywa, to, co zakazane, wywołuje największe zainteresowanie. Walc szturmem zawojował eleganckie salony europejskiej elity, z Wiedniem, stolicą dobrego smaku, na czele. Wieki później Paweł Romańczuk i jego zespół postanowili sięgnąć po tę klasyczną formę, aby oddać jej uniwersalizm. Walc okazał się na tyle chłonny, że pomieścił w sobie bogaty w dźwięki i konteksty wszechświat Małych Instrumentów.

Zamknięta w metalowym puzdereczku płyta ukazała się dzięki crowdfundingowej akcji i zawiera kompozycje zrealizowane na przestrzeni ostatnich dwóch lat w ramach różnych projektów, w które muzycznie zaangażowany był Paweł Romańczuk. W pewnym sensie jest to kompilacja "walcowych" wątków, dość często pojawiających się w twórczości Małych Instrumentów, eksploatująca charakterystyczne dla zespołu wątki. Po raz kolejny mamy zatem do czynienia z elementami: bajkowości (dźwięczącej radosną tonacją instrumentów), melancholii (odwołującą się do brzmień zapomnianych), rustykalności (odnajdującą korzenny rytm i brzmienie w nowych interpretacjach) oraz awangardy (za którą stoi sentyment do muzyki konkretnej).

Przy użyciu 1001 dźwiękowych drobiazgów, Małe Instrumenty ukazują wirową naturę walca przez pryzmat muzyki folkowej ("13", "Pućki"), jazzowej ("Freneza Birdo"), czy elektroakustycznej ("Wal C"). Gdyby jeszcze szerzej otworzyć muzyczną wyobraźnię, w wybranych fragmentach "13", "Macabre Walz" i "Symphonionwerke 1912" usłyszymy echa francuskiego chanson oraz barokowej artykulacji ("Rogalogowe wieczory"). Pomimo pewnej kruchości brzmienia i skromności kompozycji, utwory zespołu uderzają rozmachem instrumentacji, melodyki oraz bogactwem aranżacji i ornamentyki. Romańczuk z zespołem z pełnym namaszczeniem celebrują każdy detal, dzięki czemu głos nawet najdrobniejszego i epizodycznego instrumentu roznosi się w krystalicznie czystej przestrzeni. Mimo dużego zniuansowania kompozycji, zgromadzone dźwięki są teatralnie wręcz rozplanowane, a każdy odgłos wydaje się uzasadniony i niezastąpiony. Otwierająca album "13", w której gościnnie śpiewają Agata Harz i Katarzyna Smoluk-Moczydłowska, wokalistki Księżyca, odkrywa również nową, zaskakującą perspektywę muzyki Małych Instrumentów, która niezwykle interesująco sprawdza się jako piosenkowy akompaniament.

Na szczególną uwagę na "Walcach w walce" zasługuje "Macabre Walz" - utwór dedykowany Małym Instrumentom przez Jeana-Marca Zelwera (kompozytora, kolekcjonera unikalnych instrumentów, francuskiego odpowiednika Pawła Romańczuka), będący w zamyśle impresją na temat wybuchu I Wojny Światowej. Z kolei "Freneza Birdo", walc skomponowany przez muzyka MI Tomasza Orszulaka, zaskakuje swoją jazzową artykulacją, która stała się pretekstem do zaaranżowania znakomitej kulminacji i jej kapitalnego rozładowania. Poprzedzone zagęszczeniem i spotęgowaniem dźwięków, kompozycyjne apogeum dokonuje się nie poprzez gwałtowne wyciszenie, a niespodziewaną progresję akordów. Trzecim z wyróżnionych utworów jest kompozycja Igora Strawińskiego intrygująca zjawiskową, szklaną i lekko matową barwą oraz wibrującym wybrzmieniem pochodzącego z 1914 roku dulcitonu.

"Walce w walce" to kolejna w ostatnim czasie (po "Polonezach" Marcina Maseckiego) próba zmierzenia się z klasyczną formą muzyczną przez rodzimego twórcę. Jeśli jednak w 2013 roku warszawski pianista reanimował poloneza, jednocześnie dopuszczając się na nim solidnej dekonstrukcji, tak Małe Instrumenty umieszczają walca w różnych kontekstach, nie ingerując zbytnio w jego formę. Ich walc przemawia wieloma językami, jawiąc się jako "gatunek" niezwykle kosmopolityczny i otwarty na napełnianie go wielobarwną treścią.

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