Friday, October 26, 2012

Aga Zaryan – Umiera Piekno (2010)

Aga Zaryan - vocals
Michal Tokaj - piano / composer
Michal Baranski - bass
Lukasz Zyta - drums

EMI  5099909494428

By Adam Baruch

This is the 3rd album by the wonderful Polish Jazz vocalist Aga Zaryan, which marks the beginning of the second phase of her career. It is dramatically different from her two preceding albums in almost every conceivable artistic aspect, retaining only her beautiful vocal expression and the profound connection to Jazz. It is the first album, which finds her singing in the Polish language, her first recording which features string ensemble arrangements, but most importantly it marks the beginning of her love affair with poetry, or more exactly the Jazz & Poetry movement, which has deep roots in the Polish Jazz legacy. All these elements were to become the characteristic features of her future recordings.

The album was recorded in the intimate piano trio setting, with pianist Michal Tokaj, who also wrote the music for all the nine songs included on the album, bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Lukasz Zyta. Some of the songs also feature subtle string arrangements, performed by an excellent large string ensemble expanded with harp and oboe. The album was recorded at the legendary Studio Tokarnia and engineered by Jan Smoczynski, and not surprisingly is simply stunning sonically.

But of course the main focus of this album is the concept behind it, which is to commemorate the tragic 1944 Warsaw Uprising during WW II, which to this day is remembered as one of Polish history's most heartbreaking and frustrating events. The album's title "Umiera Piekno" ("Beauty Is Dying" in Polish), which is also the title of one of the songs, expresses the subject matter most astutely. The lyrics to all the songs on this album are poems written by people who participated in the uprising (and in the case of poetess Krystyna Krahelska, who wrote four of the poems featured here, died while fighting), or others who wrote about the event. The subject matter is deeply moving and intrinsically painful and poignant, especially in view of the fact that the memory of the uprising was neglected and even purposely concealed by the Socialist regime. Zaryan performed the music from this album live during a special concert at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which was broadcasted live by Polish radio and TV and amassed an incredible crowd of Warsaw's inhabitants and is viewed by many as one of the most significant artistic achievements in the country's cultural life in the last decade. It also resulted in the relatively anonymous Zaryan reaching unprecedented heights of popularity following the event.

In spite of the incredibly intense subject matter, the album turns out to be more melancholic than depressing, with the beautiful melodies and Zaryan's delicate, almost whispered vocals simply enfolding and enchanting the listener and isolating him completely from his surroundings, building gradually an intimate exchange between the singer and her audience. Zaryan is obviously a sorceress putting her magic spells to work on every possible emotional level the listener is exposing, both consciously and subconsciously. As a result the music and the performances by the singer and her cohorts amount to an unprecedented work of Art.

Listeners, who are not familiar with the polish language, need not to worry. The overall effect of this music transcends language barriers with ease and elegance and listening to this album will be a rewarding experience for any sensible human being on this planet.

Side Note: This album was originally recorded in Poland in 2007 and released the same year on an independent label. This version of the album is released on EMI in 2010, after the legendary Jazz label Blue Note (owned by EMI) signed Aga Zaryan as the first Polish Jazz artist in its roster.

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