Monday, January 7, 2013

Grzegorz Karnas – Karnas (2011)

Grzegorz Karnas - vocals
Michal Tokaj - piano
Adam Oles - cello
Michal Jaros - bass
Sebastian Frankiewicz - drums


By Adam Baruch

This is the fourth album by Polish Jazz vocalist / composer / arranger Grzegorz Karnas, one of the most unique and talented representatives of the young generation of the local Jazz scene. Separated by five years from its predecessor "Ballady Na Koniec Swiata", this album is significantly different from his earlier work and presents several novelties as far as his recording career is concerned, for example the inclusion of songs not composed by him, usage of lyrics in several different languages, a new instrumental concept, etc. The singer is accompanied by a splendid quartet, which features pianist Michal Tokaj, cellist Adam Oles, bassist Michal Jaros and drummer Sebastian Frankiewicz. Except for the bassist the other three musicians are long time collaborators on his earlier recordings. The presence of a bassist allows Oles to play his cello more in the way it was originally intended, as opposed to the earlier recordings, where it was mostly playing the bass parts.

The album comprises of no less than nineteen tracks, some quite short (under a minute) and other fully developed and lasting around seven minutes. One song (Laurie Anderson's "Langue D'Amour") appears four times in different incarnations and two other songs are reprised. Karnas composed or co-composed six of the pieces, four other pieces are credited to the band accompanying him, one is an instrumental composed by Tokaj and three are songs from the canonic Rock repertoire like Sting's "Roxanne", Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow" and the a.m. song by Laurie Anderson.

It is immediately obvious that this is Karnas' most ambitious album to date. The complexity and versatility of the material is overwhelming and music moving from one theme to another creates a charming flow, which makes the listener whish for it never to stop. Instrumentally this album, with Tokaj taking over the role of the main soloist, is finally perfect and Tokaj's beautiful tango is the best original piece of music on the album. Oles finally shows what he's made of and plays some amazing sounds. The vocal performances are also excellent, obviously more mature and relaxed than ever before. This time Karnas is pretty minimalistic, not trying to overemphasize his part and treating the entire project as a whole rather than another solo album. The group effort is definitely what makes this album tick so wonderfully and takes it a few notches up the scale.

Overall this is a truly amazing vocal Jazz album, which plainly stands out as an artistic achievement, leaving most other albums of its kind way behind. Suffice to listen to the vocalist's interpretations of the three well known songs, in order to appreciate his originality. Add to this the strength of his original material and Karnas emerges as an artist worth following and already leaving his mark on the contemporary scene, with very few contenders. An absolute must!

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