Thursday, September 12, 2013

Janusz Muniak – Placebo (2009) ***1/2

Janusz Muniak - saxophone
Wojciech Puszek - piano
Andrzej Cudzich - bass
Krzysztof Zawadzki - drums


By Adam Baruch

Polish saxophonist / composer / bandleader Janusz Muniak was one of the most important Polish Jazz figures during the early post WWII period, which flourished in the 1960s / 1970s. He was part of the emerging revolutionary movement of Polish Jazz, where he played along such legendary pioneers as Andrzej Trzaskowski, Krzysztof Komeda and Tomasz Stanko. Since the late 1970s Muniak leads his own groups and records as a leader. This is his second album as a leader and since then he continued to record a plethora of albums over the years, both as a leader and sideman. He also owns his own Jazz club in Krakow, called "U Muniaka", which is one of the oldest continuously active Jazz venues in the country.

This album presents Muniak in a quartet setting, with pianist Wojciech Puszek (playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano), bassist Andrzej Cudzich and drummer Krzysztof Zawadzki. They perform four lengthy originals, all by Muniak, which allow for extended improvisations, mostly by the leader. The presence of the electric piano sets the overall ambience of this recording, pushing it slightly towards Jazz-Rock Fusion, but the leader keeps the situation in check and well within the modern mainstream bounds. Muniak's performances on both the soprano and tenor saxophones are first rate as are those by the rhythm section, creating together some excellent, but not very innovative modern Jazz, which most Jazz listeners should enjoy.

Side Note: The Poljazz label, which originally released this album, was active for 20 years (between 1972 and 1991) and was owned by the Polish Jazz Society. Considering the fact that the music industry in the Socialist State was centralized and totally controlled, with just one State owned music company producing all the albums, the possibilities to record and release Jazz albums were extremely limited. Poljazz was conceived and founded in order to allow for many more Jazz (and other) albums to be released independently from the State owned Polskie Nagrania / Muza and as such revolutionized the music industry at the time, being the only such enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Polish label Anex reissued many of the original Poljazz albums on CD, bringing this fabulous music back to life.

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