Thursday, December 29, 2011

Masecki and Oleś Duo at The Forge in Camden

Ivan Hewett reviews finds pianist Marcin Masecki full of blazing energy and the Oles brothers disappointingly tame at The Forge in Camden.
Phot. Piotr Lewandowski
Jazz of a daring avant-garde kind has long thrived in Poland. Three of its practitioners appeared at the tiny but chic Forge venue on Tuesday, as part of a three-day survey of Polish jazz. Before they played, the bass-and-drum playing Oles brothers and pianist Marcin Masecki talked about their passion for those American pioneers of free jazz such as Ornette Coleman. We got a sense of these luminaries as beacons of freedom in a society that had only recently shaken off Communist conformity and double-speak.

All this set us up for something fiercely individual. In fact, the opening set from the Oles brothers was disappointingly tame. The titles of the pieces certainly promised something blazing. You can't get much more unconventional than Edvard Munch's The Scream, the inspiration behind one of the pieces. Drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles conjured some curious sounds, and Marcin Oles played his bass with virtuosity. But the musical ideas themselves were often surprisingly conventional.

Phot. Piotr Lewandowski
Pianist Marcin Masecki was something else. Beforehand he seemed reluctant to articulate his ideas in words, and the minute he started to play one understood why. He operates on a plane of total spontaneity, but what emerges from his piano are not the tinkles and plunks of 'free' music which can often sound as conventional as scale patterns in a Mozart sonata. They were more unsettling, because they sounded like the detritus of something we know well.

We heard madly accelerated scale fragments, or limping shards of melody, against arpeggios unfolding at different speeds. Satie's muffled pathos, and the manic patterning of Nancarrow's player-piano music seem to be its ancestors. But now and then the real source of this postmodern fracturing was startlingly evident: the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.

Masecki's wild improvisations often bordered on incoherence. But when they worked they had a blazing energy, tinged with the uneasy laughter that comes when we watch somebody going 'too far', and aren't sure if they're going to stop. It was a heartening reminder that 'free improvisation' can be full of courage and humour as well as lightning intelligence.

Author: Ivan Hewett


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