Monday, September 12, 2011

Janusz Trzcinski - The Book Of Job (1985-2007)

Krzysztof Zgraja (flute and piano)
Andrzej Przybielski (trumpet)
Zbigniew Wegehaupt (bass)
Janusz Trzcinski (drums)
Mieczyslaw Litwinski (sitar)
Milo Kurtis (percussion, Jew’s harp and trombita)
Andrzej Mitan (vocals)
Adam Baruch (narrator hebrew)
Juliusz Berger (narrator hebrew)
Ignacy Machowski (narrator german)
Jerzy Radziwiłowicz (narrator english)
Zdzisław Wardejn (narrator polish)

(Editor) This special recording is as interesting from musical as from historical point of view because its story is reflecting dramatic events in Poland after Solidarity movement became subdued through imposing martial law in 1981. All this in fascinating narration by Adam Baruch (his musique boutique  

The tale of The Book Of Job project originates in 1981, when a group of Polish jazz musicians, actors and other intellectuals decided to stage a production based on one of the most dramatic biblical stories – the story of the sufferings God decided to put on Job to test his faith. To understand the context, one has to remember that at that time Poland was being torn apart by political and social upheaval, led by the “Solidarnosc” movement, in protest against the socialist regime. The political struggle included many strikes and demonstrations, some of which led to violent clashes with the police and people being shot or beaten to death. The biblical story of Job’s suffering seemed to many Poles as an allegory reflecting their situation. 

The project involved a musical suite written especially for the project and performed by top Polish jazz musicians, with fragments of text from the Book of Job being recited by actors. The premiere performance was presented during the 1981 Jazz Jamboree Festival in Warsaw, with further performances scheduled all over Poland. However, on December 13, 1981 the Martial Law was announced in Poland as a last resort to save the regime from crumbling and all art activities were put on hold, with tanks occupying the streets of Warsaw. It seemed that the project was dead after just one performance. The Martial Law was finally lifted in 1983 and it was only a question of time when the Soviet Block was about to disintegrate, but the socialist government stayed in power till the end of the decade. 

In 1985 I received a call from some musician friends in Warsaw, inviting me to come over and co-produce a recording of “The Book Of Job” as well as take part in the expanded multi-lingual version of the project, by reciting the text in Hebrew (in addition to Polish, German and English). As much as I understood the Polish background and circumstances surrounding the project, my interior motives to take part in the project were quite different. I always considered the Book of Job as the closest biblical allegory to the fate of the Jewish People with the Holocaust symbolizing Job’s sufferings and the birth of the State of Israel as the outcome. Therefore realizing this project in Poland, where most of the Holocaust took place seemed more that appropriate to me. I was very excited by the prospect, but the possibility to actually undertake the venture seemed utterly impossible. I left Poland in 1967 and never visited the country since. My Polish citizenship was taken away when I left Poland, and at the time (1985) Poland and Israel had no diplomatic relationships. Poland and all other Socialist countries severed they diplomatic ties with Israel following the 1967 Six Days War, which meant there was no Polish Embassy in Israel, where I could get a Polish visa. In general no Polish visas were issued to Israeli citizens, especially those of Polish origin. My Polish friends started to thread the winding path of Polish bureaucracy and for some strange and completely incomprehensive reasons the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to grant me a visa for a few days, which I had to collect in Germany, something that was completely unheard off at the time. 

Finally in the bitterly cold late autumn (October) of 1985 I made the trip to Warsaw via Frankfurt and stepped on Polish soil for the first time in 18 years. I still remember the face of the Polish border police officer when I presented my Israeli passport at the Warsaw airport. I was of course a total nerve wreck, considering the fact that Poland was still very much a police state at that time, and constantly imagined that I could get arrested under any pretext at any given moment. For a few days I never stopped looking around trying to figure out if I’m being followed. Eventually the nervousness disappeared, mostly due to the warm reception I received from my friends, old and new alike. I flew to Krakow, where the production team and the musicians and actors assembled and we started rehearsing and then recording the music and the recitations. The recordings were done in a well-equipped studio, which was located behind the stage of the “Teatr Stu”. Everything went pretty smoothly and I stayed on for a couple of days to mix the tapes for the final master. After the production was over I went for a few days to visit Silesia, the southern, coal-mining part of Poland were I was born, and later on returned to Warsaw. I couldn’t take the master tapes with me, as these would surely be confiscated as illegal political unauthorized contraband, but I was promised they would be sent to me, as I planned to release them on my own Jazzis label, which I planned to start soon after. The producers also promised to release the album in Poland. 

A few days later I was back home in Israel and although I visited Poland many times later, I never heard about the project again. I lost contact with my Polish co-producers and although the tapes did land in my lap many years later, I left them untouched. Imagine my surprise when upon my recent visit to Poland a friend told me that the album was finally released just a few days before I arrived and even some reviews appeared in Polish papers (mentioning me) on the day I arrived. I was flabbergasted, angry for about 10 seconds (for not being consulted about this) and of course ecstatically happy to see this baby finally being born, after a 22 years long pregnancy. Especially so when I saw that the album was beautifully packaged in book format with splendid historical photographs (mine included, looking much younger of course). So much about the background of this album, and as to the contents, listening to it for the first time in so many years I must admit I’m more than proud to be associated with its creation. The music, performed by a wonderful septet of Polish jazz musicians, including Krzysztof Zgraja – flute and piano, Andrzej Przybielski – trumpet, Zbigniew Wegehaupt – bass, Janusz Trzcinski – drums, Mieczyslaw Litwinski – sitar, Milo Kurtis – percussion, Jew’s harp and trombita and Andrzej Mitan – vocals, resembles in spirit the Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew sessions, with plenty of space for solos performed over spacey / funky rhythmic patterns. The recitations are used as overlays, switching between the various languages, creating a dramatic collage effect over the music. Quite ambitious and far reaching in any respect and considering the fact that it was done 22 years ago, I’d say it was well ahead of its time. I suppose not everybody can enjoy this kind of creation as much as I do, but nevertheless it is a momentous piece of intellectual significance, cutting deeply into the listener’s soul, if listened to carefully and attentively.

Check music from this album:

Author of text: Adam Baruch

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