Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Aga Zaryan – A Book Of Luminous Things (Blue Note, 2011) by Adam Baruch

Aga Zaryan (vocals)

Michał Tokaj (piano)
Larry Koonse (guitar)
Darek Oleszkiewicz (double bass)
Munyungo Jackson (percussion)
Polish Radio String Orchestra

 A Book Of Luminous Things (Blue Note, 2011)

This is the 6th album by Polish Jazz vocalist Aga Zaryan and her second release on the legendary Blue Note label (she is the first Polish Jazz artist to release albums on that label, and so far the only one, which is altogether disheartening, considering the level of musical artistry readily available in Poland). Any reference to this album as yet another vocal Jazz release would be completely off the track. This is much more than just one more vocal Jazz album; it is an artistic statement, which encompasses different Art disciplines – in this case music and poetry – amalgamating them into an aesthetic whole, which becomes more than the sum of its parts. This kind of (music & poetry) format, which has an established tradition on the Polish cultural scene, continues the superb Jazz & Poetry movement, which has its roots more that half a century ago in the Beat generation. 
Zaryan created this concept work around the works of Polish Nobel laureate, poet Czeslaw Milosz, and three poetesses, which Milosz admired. Of the twelve songs presented on this recording, six are based on poems by Milosz and the other six are by the three poetesses, each with two poems. To complicate things a bit further, all the texts are in English, although most were written originally in Polish. Milosz, who lived in the US since 1960, firmly believed that he should write poetry only in his Mother tongue (i.e. Polish), and only later translated his own poems into English. He also translated the poems by the Polish poetess Anna Swirszczynska. The other two poetesses: British-born American Denise Leverov and American Jane Hirshfield wrote their poems in English of course. 
As to the music, the list of credits is no less impressive. The basic tracks were recorded in a quartet format with musicians, who cooperated with Zaryan on earlier recordings: pianist / composer Michal Tokaj, who also composed almost all the music, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz and percussionist Munyungo Jackson. The basic tracks were then ornamented by rich orchestral arrangements, written by Tokaj and performed by the Polish Radio String Orchestra, which was directed by another Polish Jazz celebrity, pianist / composer Krzysztof Herdzin. If all this is not confusing enough, the basic tracks were recorded in the US and the orchestra in Poland. 
But what really counts is of course the final result, and in this case in spite of the intellectual complexity looming in the background and the musical intricacy involved, the overall result is a delicate, almost reserved and unpretentious little gem of an album. There is nothing flashy and overbearing here, just an intimate dialogue between Zaryan, her cohorts and the listener. Yes, it takes some effort to plunge deep beneath the surface and yes it takes a few listening sessions to discover some of those wonderful details veiled behind the sounds. I'd be surprised if Zaryan would've wanted it any other way; after all subtlety and modesty were always her distinctive gifts. Her vocal performances here, mystical and sensuous, reveal her struggle with the lyrical content, which is often devilishly convoluted. 
Yet everything sounds seemingly effortless and natural, as if no sweat was spilled in the process. These are true star qualities, in the best possible meaning of the idiom and in complete contrast to what are commonly conceived as star qualities these days. Although the album does not break and new musical ground, it certainly manages to create a unique atmosphere and climate, proving once more that intelligent, meaningful and non-trivial music combined with an obvious love and conviction leading the Artist are the essential ingredients needed to create true Art. Zaryan's Polish listeners will probably impatiently await the Polish language version of this album, which should be available very soon, but it is this version which might bring some listeners in Europe and the US closer to the treasures of the Polish Cultural Heritage, which unfortunately remains mostly completely unknown beyond its own ghetto. Thank you Aga for your vision and conviction: chapeau! kudos! and respect!

(Editor) Please listen to wonderful song titled "This Only" from the album :


Author: Adam Baruch
check also his music boutique: https://www.jazzis.com/shop/

1 comment:

  1. This has been my favorite album over the past year, and I will love it forever. Beautiful unpretentious voice, fascinating poetic lyrics, and a brilliant band.

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