Thursday, December 13, 2012

Krystyna Stanko – Secretly (2010)

Krystyna Stanko - vocals
Marcin Gawdzis - trumpet
Irek Wojtczak - bass clarinet, flute
Dominik Bukowski - vibraphone, kalimba
Piotr Lemanczyk - bass
Cezary Konrad - drums
Mieczyslaw Szczsniak - vocals

STM 001

By Adam Baruch

This is the fifth album by Polish singer / songwriter Krystyna Stanko, who this time sets aside her own music and pays homage to the songwriting talents of Brit Peter Gabriel. Gabriel, who came to fame as the eccentric, theatrical and quite over the top charismatic front man of the legendary proggers Genesis, calmed down considerably after he opted for a solo career, which in retrospect was a smart move, both artistically and commercially. Over time Gabriel recorded an impressive number of albums, containing mostly his self-penned material, which overall is excellent Pop music in today's standards, gaining acclaim by critics and fans alike.

For her album Stanko selected eight songs, seven of which are Gabriel's creations and one, which was covered by him on his eights studio album "Scratch My Back", and was originally written by Stephin Merritt, front-man of The Magnetic Fields. She is accompanied by a dreamy quintet, which includes trumpeter Marcin Gawdzis, bass clarinetists and flautist Irek Wojtczak, veteran drummer Cezary Konrad and her regular cohorts vibraphonist Dominik Bukowski and bassist extraordinaire Piotr Lemanczyk. On the non-Gabriel song she sings a duet with singer Mieczyslaw Szczesniak, who appears as a guest.

Jazz tributes to Pop artists are a perilous path, often leading straight off the cliff and I must say that this album is one of the very few such attempts that actually work, which already is a success. What makes this music work is mostly the fact that Stanko as a performer and Bukowski / Lemanczyk as arrangers (although not credited as such on the album's cover, but audibly so) did not just perform a tribute to Gabriel's music by covering the songs but in fact transformed the music, often quite dramatically, into a different platform, which has very little to do with the original Pop environment it was created in, and sits firmly in the Jazz idiom every step of the way. All the solos, the incredible work of the rhythm section and Stanko's vocals are dripping Jazz honey every step of the way and I'd even risk speculating that many of Gabriel's fans would not recognize some of the original songs under the disguise they appear here in.

I dare say that I find it a pity Stanko did not take this project one step further, by translating the original lyrics into the Polish language, which would have made her vocal expression much more sophisticated and intense. Singing in a foreign language is an effort, which usually limits the vocalist by robbing them of their total attention towards the music, so necessary in order to create a perfect vocal delivery. Nevertheless this is a speculation and the album is definitely an excellent piece of music the way it was recorded. I have no idea if Gabriel ever heard this album, but I'm quite sure he'd approve and appreciate it, considering he's one of the more open-minded and non-prejudicial heroes of the contemporary music biz (or whatever is left of it).

This is definitely an album worth having and hearing again and again, in different moods and circumstances, as it is multifaceted and capable of uplifting the spirits repeatedly. There is something in there for a wide audience of music lovers, from Jazz buffs to Pop aficionados (providing they wash their ears first). Kudos Krystyna!

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