Saturday, June 29, 2013

Anna Maria Jopek – Dwa Serduszka Cztery Oczy (2008) ****1/2

Anna Maria Jopek - vocals

UNIVERSAL 602517947825










By Adam Baruch

This phenomenal box set, or rather book set, combines three albums by Polish vocalist / songwriter Anna Maria Jopek (a.k.a. AMJ), recorded over a period of several years in the mid 2000s. It includes the album "ID", a CD full of demos and outtakes which did not make it to be included on "ID" and the live album "JO & CO". Together these three CDs summarize the "ID" period, which was a groundbreaking step in AMJ's development as an artist. Packaged with a marvelous book full of black & white photographs of AMJ and the participating musicians, elegantly designed and exquisitely printed, this is a piece of Art in every sense of the word.

Surrounded by a group of wonderful musicians form Poland and the world over she performs mostly self-written songs, mixing Jazz and World Music with the typical Polish melodic / lyrical atmosphere, which dominates the proceedings. The list of world famous musicians participating on "ID" is most impressive and includes saxophonist Branford Marsalis, bassists Christian McBride and Richard Bona, drummer Manu Katc, percussionist Mino Cinelu, oud player / vocalist Dhafer Youssef, guitarist / vocalist Oscar Castro Neves and pianist Tord Gustavsen. Polish musicians include keyboardist Pawel Bzim Zarecki, guitarists Marcin Kydrynski and Marek Napiorkowski, pianist Leszek Mozdzer, trumpeter Robert Majewski, pianist / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin, who is in charge of the string quartet and orchestral arrangements (performed by the Sinfonia Viva Orchestra). The live album includes also organist Jan Smoczynski, saxophonist Henryk Miskiewicz, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Pawel Dobrowolski.

The music presents a complex panorama of sounds and ideas, which include many cross-genre excursions, vocal experiments, poetic vistas and intimate dialogs between the Artist and the world that surrounds her. AMJ has one of the sweetest voices on this planet and her big artistry is all about not to make sugary music, which would be quite natural for many other singers. She also has an incredible sense of rhythm in general and Jazzy swing in particular, which is quite rare. Her affinity to music originating beyond her native Polish / European sphere of influence is also quite remarkable. All these, combined with her unique expressionism as a singer and delicate, elegant, intricate vocal delivery make her one of my favorite singers of all times.

AMJ enjoys a superstar status in Poland, which usually is a sign of tasteless commercialism and total lack of any artistic values. Her ability to be extremely popular and at the same time produce first class music is therefore especially impressive. Although some snobbish Jazz circles in her country deem her commercial and populist, this is simply completely unjustified and probably a sign of narrow-mindedness if not worse. I find it hard to believe that anybody listening to this music would feel anything but total admiration, as it is simply perfect.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Yeshe - Yeshe Live Piastowska 1 (2012) ***

Yeshe (band)

Antoni Gralak - trąbka
Piotr Pawlak - gitara
Darek Makaruk - sampling
Paweł Osicki - perkusja

Yeshe Live Piastowska 1 (2012)

By Maciej Nowotny

The moving force behind this project is trumpeter Antoni Gralak. He is well known for his openness to different musical genres which manifested itself in being involved in yass (Free Cooperation), mainstream jazz (Young Power) or even rock projects (Tie Break). Eventually he matured enough to start his own enterprises of which GRAAL and YESHE seem most significant. In YESHE he is supported by his long time companion veteran guitarist Piotr Pawlak but also by Darek Makaruk responsible for samples and by young drummer Paweł Osicki.

Musically speaking the music on this CD may be described best as kind of new jazz with strong ethnic and improvisational elements. This ethnic component is not related to Polish folk but to Middle East. In concept it is of course nothing new and if someone already knows such recordings like for example Nils Petter Molvaer "Khmer" or "Hamada" and, going even further back, some discs by late Miles Davis, he will find in YESHE exactly the same language even to the point of imitation.

Lack of originality is definitely the weakest side of this album but it is at least to certain degree redeemed by enthusiasm and energy as conveyed by this LIVE recordings. Gralak and his partners definitely feel very comfortable when playing in front of the audience and this feeling transfers itself to listener while rehearsing the music. I must confess that because of that I really enjoyed listening to this CD even if from time to time some malignant voice in my ear repeated that it all already was played by others many times before...



Tracklist:
Już tu nie wrócę 05:21
Kandro Taniec 04:47
Asioka 08:00
Beyond Time 11:38
Swayambhu 06:56
Czarny Płaszcz 04:20
Wake Up India 07:29

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lichtański Sound Lab – Live (2013)

Wojciech Lichtański - saxophone
Michał Szkil - piano
Michał Kapczuk - bass
Szymon Madej - drums

PRK 0127







By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by a Polish Jazz quartet led by saxophonist Wojciech Lichtański with pianist Michał Szkil, bassist Michał Kapczuk and drummer Szymon Madej. The quartet, recorded live in the Katowice studio of the Polish Radio, performs six original compositions, all by Lichtański. All the musicians are students of the Jazz Institute at the Katowice Academy of Music with ages ranging between 21 and 28 at the time of the recording.

As usual is such cases, it is very hard to believe that this music was created by such young musicians. The level of confidence, skill and most importantly composition present herein is simply outstanding and usually associated with established artists rather than novices. Perhaps this is one of the secret ingredients, which make the contemporary Polish Jazz scene to be one of the best and most exciting in the world. Of course one has to be careful not to boost the egos of these young musicians beyond proportions, but honestly this music is simply too good to be parsimonious with compliments. It is scary to think what these young cats will come up with when they grow up?

Lichtanski's compositions are quite diverse both stylistically and dynamically, ranging from lyrical ballads characterized by that typical Polish lyricism and sweetly melancholic melody lines, to up-tempo numbers full of vigor and swinging magnificently. Yes, it is mainstream Jazz, but as such it represents the best side of mainstream, far away from the worn-out boring doodling, which is often associated with mainstream Jazz, giving it its bad name.

As performer, Lichtański has a beautiful tone, which normally takes years to acquire, which is as effective on the listener as a snake charmer. His technique is also quite remarkable. Hs companions are all first-rate players, giving him excellent support throughout. The quartet functions very well as a group, with the musicians listening to each other carefully and respecting their individual space. I'd love to hear more solos by the other quartet members, but I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity for this in the future, as these musicians are here to stay. The pianist is the most intriguing contributor, with some blood-hurdling effectiveness during his solos, but the rhythm section is also exactly right were it's needed, strong, precise and imaginative. In short this is one stunning debut album, which simply lifts up the spirit and leaves the listener longing for the next chapter, full of expectations. Well done indeed lion cubs!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Andrzej Trzaskowski – Polish Radio Jazz Archives Vol.05 (2013)

Andrzej Trzaskowski - piano
Zbigniew Namyslowski - saxophone
Michal Urbaniak - saxophone

Roman Dylag - bass
Juliusz Sandecki - bass
Adam Jedrzejowski - drums
Andrzej Dabrowski - drums

POLSKIE RADIO 1609


By Adam Baruch

This is the fifth installment in the new series of releases initiated by the Polish Radio, which presents archive Jazz recordings. Radio recordings are always a fabulous source of remarkable material, and as far as Polish Jazz history is concerned, the Polish Radio, which was a state monopoly for 45 years, recorded over time a plethora of invaluable material, which apart from the albums released by the Polskie Nagrania record company (also a state monopoly), is the only additional source of Polish Jazz recordings. For many years Polish Radio recorded concerts presented during Poland's most important Jazz venue, the annual Jazz Jamboree Festival and many other festivals as well.

The material presented here presents the iconic figure of the post WWII Polish Jazz pioneer, pianist / composer Andrzej Trzaskowski. Of the twelve tracks on this album, first five are live recordings from the 1962 Jazz Jamboree Festival and the remaining seven are studio radio recordings from the same year. The material was recorded by three different lineups: The Wreckers quintet (which alternated bass players), which included saxophonists Zbigniew Namyslowski and Michal Urbaniak, bassists Roman Dylag or Juliusz Sandecki and drummer Adam Jedrzejowski, the Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet, which had the same lineup as The Wreckers, except for drummer Andrzej Dabrowski and the Andrzej Trzaskowski Trio, which included bassist Roman Dylag and drummer Adam Jedrzejowski. The material includes both original compositions by Trzaskowski (four of the five live tracks) and modern Jazz standards.

Listeners familiar with the Polish Jazz history will of course notice immediately that the core of Trzaskowski's group (Namyslowski and Urbaniak) was also the core of the soon to be formed revolutionary ensemble led by Krzysztof Komeda, and Dylag already played with Komeda as a member of his trio at the very same Jazz Jamboree 1962 Festival. This brings on the issue of the buried controversy as to who was in fact the pivotal Godfather figure of the Polish Jazz, Andrzej Trzaskowski or Krzysztof Komeda. Komeda (born 1931), who was a couple of years older from Trzaskowski (born 1933) but they both definitely belonged to the same generation, both dominated the scene in the late 1950s and early to mid 1960s and both were breaking new ground with their music, as performers and composers. Of course Komeda will go down in history as the overall winner of this little debated contest, due to his enormous international success as composer of film music, which Trzaskowski also dealt with but with a much lesser success.

Considering the fact that Trzaskowski's recorded legacy is lamentably limited, this album is a superb addition to his heritage, especially in view of the top-form performances and fantastic remastering work, which makes the music herein sound fresh, clear and vibrant. Namyslowski and Urbaniak fans will also have a field day with this music, which documents the early days of their illustrious careers. This album is therefore a "must have" for any Polish Jazz fan, old and young alike, as this music is ageless and its historic significance is priceless.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Maciej Milewski Quintet - The Bird's Reflection EP (2013)

Maciej Milewski Quintet

Piotr Chęcki - sax
Maciej Milewski - guitar
Szymon Burnos - rhodes
Krzysztof Słomkowski - bass
Sławek Koryzno - drums

The Bird's Reflection EP (2013)



(Editor) This is just an EP of students of well-known Gdańsk Music Academy. As title suggests it is the homage paid to golden era of jazz. What strikes me in playing of these lads is the beauty of sound they were capable to produce. Though young they have a good feeling for rhythm, can spin attractive melodies and cooperate smoothly. That augurs well for future and I am going to follow how they will develop in years to come. Good luck!


More music of this band:




Krzysztof Komeda – Polish Radio Jazz Archives Vol.04 (2013)

Krzysztof Komeda - piano

POLSKIE RADIO 1600









By Adam Baruch

This is the fourth installment in the new series of releases initiated by the Polish Radio, which presents archive Jazz recordings. Radio recordings are always a fabulous source of remarkable material, and as far as Polish Jazz history is concerned, the Polish Radio, which was a state monopoly for 45 years, recorded over time a plethora of invaluable material, which apart from the albums released by the Polskie Nagrania record company (also a state monopoly), is the only additional source of Polish Jazz recordings. For many years Polish Radio recorded concerts presented during Poland's most important Jazz venue, the annual Jazz Jamboree Festival and many other festivals as well.

The material presented here was recorded between 1957 and 1962 and presents the iconic figure of the Godfather of Polish Jazz, pianist / composer Krzysztof Komeda. Of the twelve recordings, first five are studio radio recordings and seven are live recordings from the 1961 and 1962 Jazz Jamboree Festivals. Most of the material was recorded in a trio / quartet setting except for the four 1957 recordings, which were recorded by a larger ensemble. The remastering work is incredible and the sound quality brigs this music back to life at its full bloom, which of course is great news for the numerous Komeda fans all over the world.

The music presents a retrospective look at Komeda's early phase, which shows the remarkable development of his immense talent both as a player and a composer. The transition from the early period when Komeda is performing American Jazz standards into the later period when he plays almost exclusively his original compositions shows the birth of European Jazz, of which Komeda was one of the earliest leaders, caught live in action. It also shows his role as a composer of film music, including his early score to the Andrzej Wajda film "Innocent Sorcerers" and his monumental music for the Roman Polanski debut film "Knife In The Water". This is the Holy Grail of Polish Jazz, which certainly deserves to be kept alive and passed from generation to generation as part of the Artistic heritage, Polish and Worldwide alike.

However, some questions arise as to the actual selection of the material for this release; although I have been assured by the people in charge of the production of this album, that all the music included herein is previously unreleased, it is hardly conceivable considering the plethora of Komeda releases (legal, semi-legal or completely bootleg) over the years, with the extended "complete" Komeda series by both Power Bros and Polonia labels and even the Polskie Nagrania / Muza 3CD set of Komeda performances at Jazz Jamboree, released in 2011, which seems to duplicate some of the music included here, and of course the lack of a proper booklet with proper liner notes, photographs and other well deserved details, which this monumental music truly deserves. Polish Radio really should have made a better judgment and more of an effort here. A pity!

As usual with this series, this is a great document of the era and an integral part of the Polish Jazz saga, which deserves to be told and studied. My advice is to get hold of this gem ASAP, as Polish CDs are often out of print before the paint dries on the booklets.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hunger Pangs - Meet Meat (ForTune Records, 2013)

Hunger Pangs (band)

Marek Kądziela - guitar
Tomasz Dąbrowski - trumpet, microKORG, balkan horn
Kasper Tom Christiansen - drums

Meet Meat (ForTune Records, 2013)

By Dirk Blasejezak

Actually, I did not want to discuss the name, because I do not think (i.e. hope) that the musicians of this trio from Poland and Denmark have to fight with significant consequences of hunger.

Nevertheless, the first association of course is that of the hunger for personal development, for art and creativity. It can indeed lead to mental and physical problems when someone is hindered in his self-unfolding - maybe that can be called pain too. But even here the band members should not be affected as they are touring for several years in many different formations in Poland, Denmark and Germany and have already been mentioned many times on this blog. The liner notes then indeed clarify that the name of the trio stems from a book.

You can feel though that on this album three came together who are bound and determined. Uncompromisingly they lay before the listener their own compositions, most of which were written by Marek Kądziela. From the first song onward it is clear that the three are not here to produce a "nice" album - these songs had to get out.

Marek Kądziela and Kasper Tom Christiansen were mentioned together on this blog before with their band "K.R.A.N." - at that time still caught in the mainstream (see: http://polish-jazz.blogspot.de/2011/11/kran-kran-gateway-music-2009.html), a conception which I could verify for myself at a concert some years ago. However, specifically Kasper Tom Christiansen has remained in my memory, and also the very unexcited, but very variable play of Marek Kądziela. I am glad that these two are back together here and could get Tomasz Dabrowski (Tom Trio), one of the most exciting trumpeters of Poland, into the boat (Tomasz and Marek already know each other from other projects, e.g. Off Quartet). And the result is a real gem!

It is not free jazz, but it is free from conventions. Many changes, mostly in fast tempos and a stunning interplay. Either the three have practiced together for a very, very long time or they understand each other instinctively. They definitely play on the same wavelength and so it doesn’t matter that there is no bass player to be found on any of the recordings - either Marek Kądziela fulfills that part or Tomasz Dabrowski creates the missing depth with the microKORG.

I particularly like the first part of the record as towards the end the songs are too tightly composed. Although the compositions themselves are far from being boring, the flow gets a little lost and the musicians receive significantly fewer space for their own solo play. But that does not at all becloud the overall impression, as the entire album is just too strong! Especially if you consider this a debut album. An unconditional recommendation and certainly one of the albums, that at the end of the year will be in the top lists of many jazz fans.

A short look into the recording sessions in 2010:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Antykwintet – Antykwintet (Swinging Tricity Vol.3) (2012)

Leszek Kulakowski - piano
Antoni Sliwa - flute
Lech Wieleba - bass
Jozef Eliasz - drums
Marian Szarmach - drums
Mariusz Stopinski - trumpet
Piotr Sapieja - oercussion

SOLITON 231



By Adam Baruch



This is the third installment in the excellent archival series documenting Polish Jazz created in the country's Tricity on the Baltic Sea, one of the important centers where Polish Jazz thrives and over the years produced numerous first-rate musicians and superb bands. The series presents material, which in most cases never previously appeared in any form and therefore is of immense historic importance.

This chapter presents the Antykwintet ensemble, which was a relatively short lived quartet / quintet founded in 1978 and active for about four years, but unfortunately never managed to record even one album under their name, which sadly was the fate of many Polish Jazz artists during the Socialist regime. However they did participate three times (1978, 1979 & 1980) in the Jazz Nad Odra festival in Wroclaw, where all of the material on this album comes from.

Antykwintet was founded by pianist / composer Leszek Kulakowski and flautist Antoni Sliwa (who's siblings played with two other ensembles documented by this series: Baszta and Rama 111). The initial quartet also included bassist Lech Wieleba and drummer Jozef Eliasz. That quartet also included percussionist Piotr Sapieja as a guest musician. Later on the quartet was expanded to a quintet with the addition of trumpeter Mariusz Stopnicki and Eliasz was replaced by Marian Szarmach.

The music includes seven compositions, six of which are originals by Kulakowski and one is by American guitarist Barney Kessel, all recorded live as mentioned earlier. The sound quality is not great, but remastered it is certainly good enough to be enjoyed. The live setting allows for expanded treatments of the compositions, four of which are over ten minutes and one over seventeen minutes long. This means there are ample opportunities to hear long solos, mostly by the pianists (on both acoustic and electric piano) and the flautists. Since the flute is sadly rarely used as the front solo instrument in Jazz, this album should be greatly interesting to flute aficionados. The quintet with the trumpet / flute front line is also very unusual, almost unique in fact, which is another interesting aspect of this album.

The music is modern mainstream, not revolutionary but certainly interesting and quite innovative at the time. The live setting again allows for a lot of freedom, especially during the extended solos, which, assuming the ensemble would have continued together might have developed into more imaginative pastures, but alas we'll never know. In any case this is certainly worth revisiting some thirty plus years later.

This is another great piece of Polish Jazz history, which should definitely be told and preserved as part of the country's Cultural Heritage. Kudos to Marcin Jacobson for creating this series and keeping it going!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Samech – Quachatta (2012)

Anna Ostachowska - viola
Magdalena Pluta - cello
Marek Lewandowski - double bass
Robert Sztorc - percussion

TZADIK 8169






By Adam Baruch

This is a debut album by the Polish Jazz-World Fusion quartet Samech, which consists basically of a string trio: Anna Ostachowska who plays voila, Magdalena Pluta who plays cello and Marek Lewandowski, who plays double bass with percussionist Robert Sztorc (who in his distant past was a member of the Prog outfit T.A.O.). The quartet plays acoustic music, which to some extent is based on Jewish and Klezmer music elements, but takes the music much further into Medieval European music, Turkish swirling rhythms, Sephardic, rather than Ashkenazi musical tradition and the Iberian Peninsula Moorish heritage.

The album consists of ten wonderful pieces, seven of which are written by Ostachowska or co-written / co-arranged with Agata Krauz, one is by Krauz herself, one is co-written by Pluta and Lewandowski and the remaining one is by the Davka ensemble (another great Jewish Music ensemble, from US, which also records for the Tzadik label). The incredible sound of the viola and cello combined with the bass pulsations and mostly Oriental percussion is simply stunning and completely unique, which immediately places Samech in a class of its own.

The performances are all very exciting and manage to keep the listener on his toes through the entire duration of the album. The overall sound is well balanced with all four instruments clearly audible, which is such a relief opposite the much cluttered sound one come across so often in contemporary recordings. This is a perfect example of innovation rather than imitation, which of course is highly commendable.

The album should delight many quite diverse audiences, as it speaks to World Music, Classical and Jazz connoisseurs alike and is of course highly recommended. Hopefully the ensemble will follow the superb debut effort with additional future achievements. Well done indeed!

Kroke – Feelharmony (2012)

Kroke (Band)
Anna Maria Jopek - vocals
Krzysztof Herdzin - piano / arrangements
Sinfonietta Cracovia

EMI 5099901770827





By Adam Baruch

In autumn of 2011 I had the pleasure of being present at the opening concert of the Singer's Warsaw Festival, which featured Poland's most prominent World Music ensemble Kroke and their guest, superstar vocalist Anna Maria Jopek. Jopek, who in recent years discovered World Music herself, as evident on her latest recordings, was nevertheless quite a surprising partner for Kroke, and considering she only landed in Warsaw a few hours before the concert and managed only a brief rehearsal with them, things were quite tense. But when the lights went out and the music started, it was obvious that magic was in the air that night and for the next two hours the audience was completely mesmerized. Obviously the very same magic prompted Kroke to include Jopek on this, their next studio album.

Kroke, which consists of viola player Tomasz Kukurba, accordionist Jerzy Bawol and bassist Tomasz Lato, started in the early 1990s as a Klezmer band, one of numerous such bands established in Poland as a result of the Renaissance of the Jewish Culture in the country. They started to perform at Krakow's old Jewish district Kazimierz, which became a fashionable tourist attraction, and in time their reputation grew. They were lucky to gain international attention and soon became the resident ethnic stars. In time they left Klezmer music almost entirely and embraced World Music originating in many different cultural spheres and added noticeable Jazz influence to their music.

For this album Kroke joined forces with, in addition to the a.m. Anna Maria Jopek, also the excellent drummer Slawomir Berny and pianist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin, who co-produced the album, composed and arranged some orchestral intros to the band's music and conducted the Sinfonietta Cracovia, which performed the orchestral parts. The album presents twelve pieces, eleven of which are original compositions by the band's members and one is by the pioneer of modern Klezmer music Harry Kandel. As the title suggests, the band intended to "take a step" into a more "symphonic" sound for their music, utilizing the orchestra.

Unfortunately, intentions aside, the album fails to achieve the same level of excitement and spontaneous inspiration, which characterized the live concert I witnessed. Although Jopek delivers some superb vocal parts, they constitute only a small contribution to the entire project. The orchestral arrangements sound quite out of place in this case, turning the free spirit of World Music into a housebroken animal, which is a pity. Some things simply don't go well together. Overall there is plenty of great music here and even if the album sounds very commercial at times, it was created by excellent musicians, who meant well.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Krzysztof Herdzin – Dancing Flowers (2005)

Krzysztof Herdzin - keyboards
Marek Napiorkowski - guitar
Zbigniew Wegehaupt - bass
Cezary Konrad - drums
and others

FUSION 001





By Adam Baruch



This album by Polish keyboardist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin presents yet another aspect of his seemingly universal musical personality. It is basically a Funk album, which consists of seven instrumentals and three songs, all composed by Herdzin. The arrangements, especially those involving the horn section, have some proximity to Jazz, but overall it is a Pop album with some Jazz-Rock Fusion elements.

The music is performed by an excellent team, which includes guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, bassists Zbigniew Wegehaupt (in a rare appearance on bass guitar), Filip Sojka and Miroslaw Wisniewski and drummers Cezary Konrad, Grzegorz Grzyb and Michal Dabrowka and horn players like saxophonists Michal Kulenty, Marek Podkowa and Mariusz Melczarek and several others. The vocals are handled by three young Pop vocalists, two female and one male, all of them quite unimpressive

The music is based on the American Funk model, which was developed in the 1970s / 1980s by a plentitude of mostly African American musicians, especially the archetypical Earth, Wind & Fire, but also by many partly Jazz oriented artists like George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Grover Washington, Jr. and even Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock during some periods of their extensive careers. Herdzin presents his version of Funk, which is based more on the melodic content than the rhythmic progression and is therefore somewhat softened, or simply more European. Herdzin often states that anything he does is by no means inferior to whatever the Americans are doing, and to tell the truth he is often correct when saying so, but on the other hand as it was once so adequately put: "White Man Can't Jump" and Funk is after all about "jumping" more than anything else. When asked if he ever played Funk, Herdzin can most certainly answer positively, following this recording.

Overall this is a well done, pleasant album (except for the vocal tracks), which is ideal for driving on sunny days (pretty rare in Poland) with the volume up and a pretty blonde beside you. Enjoy!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Krzysztof Herdzin – Fantasy On Themes From IV String Quartet By Grazyna Bacewicz / Fairytale Stories (2009)

Krzysztof Herdzin - piano
Michal Kulenty - saxophone
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Cezary Konrad - drums
Royal String Quartet
Pawel Gusnar - saxophone

POLSKIE RADIO 1269



By Adam Baruch

It seems that some Jazz musicians / composers, especially those with Classical Music education and training, are caught in a duality conflict between these two streams of artistic expression. After all the European musical tradition cultivated Classical music for centuries as a lofty and superior cultural form, leaving other kinds of music, like Folklore, Pop and later also Jazz to the masses. Since the late 20th Century Jazz managed to achieve some recognition from the Classical music elite, but is hardly commonly accepted on equal terms.

Polish pianist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin belongs to that particular group, which is probably the reason why he tries to bridge his Jazz activities with Classical music, as demonstrated on this album, which presents two Jazz-Classical Fusion pieces composed by him. The first piece is a three parts fantasy based on the themes used in the 4th String Quartet by Polish 20th Century violinist / composer Grazyna Bacewicz, who was an exceptionally gifted composer concentrating on music involving the violin, but wrote also full orchestral pieces. The fantasy is performed by a Jazz quartet, which includes Herdzin's regular rhythm section: bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Cezary Konrad and saxophonist Michal Kulenty. The Jazz quartet is accompanied by the Royal String Quartet. The second piece is an eight part cycle of miniatures performed in a duet setting with saxophonist Pawel Gusnar.

The problem with most such attempts is to combine Classical music with Jazz is usually twofold: to integrate the two into an organic amalgam and to maintain a balance between the conflicting nature of the two. Often those attempts fail on both counts or at least at one of them, becoming either Jazz & Strings or Classical music played by the saxophone. In this case is seems that Herdzin's Jazz affiliation takes over, leaving the Classical component slightly in the background. Although the integration between the Jazz and string quartets is very smooth, the resulting music demonstrates a Jazzy "swing", which Classical music usually lacks. Whatever the music misses in adventurousness and novelty is well compensated by great melodies and slick arrangements. Nevertheless this is overall a very satisfactory effort, which surely deserves a wider audience than it initially achieved. Personally I prefer the intimate duets, which work better for me, but the whole record should prove interesting to most true music lovers.

The performances are, as usual with Herdzin's albums, spotless and inspired. All the musicians involved are highly talented and professional. Herdzin, as usual, manages to present one more facet of his bottomless box of tricks, which never ceases to amaze.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Krzysztof Herdzin – Looking For Balance (2011)

Krzysztof Herdzin - piano
Gregoire Maret - harmonica
Piotr Baron - saxophone
Marek Napiorkowski - guitra
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Cezary Konrad - drums
with
Sinfonia Viva Orchestra

UNIVERSAL 602527877860

By Adam Baruch

Polish pianist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin is without a doubt not only the most versatile musician in his country, but also extremely prolific and obviously accordingly talented. He likes to work with as many different musical settings as possible, from a piano trio to large scale orchestral extravaganzas, seemingly with equal ease and success. This is one of such "out there" projects, which features Herdzin's original music played by a Jazz ensemble and accompanied by a full scale string and woodwinds orchestra.

The ensemble comprises of Herdzin's regular trio, with bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Cezary Konrad, and three guests: guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, saxophonist Piotr Baron and Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret (of Pat Metheny Group fame), who is the featured soloist. The Sinfonia Viva Orchestra is responsible for the orchestral parts.

The music belongs broadly to the Jazz & Strings format, which of course was tried many times before. The Jazz ensemble plays a set of very melodic, relaxed and lyrical compositions, taking solos in turn, with Maret being the principle soloist. The harmonica is relatively rarely used as a solo instrument in the Jazz framework and with the exception of a few known cases (most notably the Belgian Toots Thielemans) is usually associated with less challenging music. Of course in the hands (and mouth) of a very talented player it can sound quite virtuosic, as is the case here, but it adds another dimension of "sweetness" to the proceedings, which borders with overdoing it. Personally Baron's contributions on this album are the most interesting, albeit being decisively too limited.

The orchestral arrangements are elegant and kept in good taste, playing only the second fiddle (pun intended) in the proceedings. Although excellently played and masterfully arranged, they seem to be merely ornamentation, contributing little to the actual musical content other than setting an atmospheric background. There is definitely a fine balance and cooperation between the ensemble and the orchestra, but full musical integration is not achieved here, perhaps purposely. Herdzin of course proves that he can easily handle the orchestral arrangements any way he pleases.

Overall this is a very nice album, which many listeners will find pleasing and enjoyable. For hardcore Jazz fans this might be a bit too sweet to swallow (especially those with diabetes like myself), but nevertheless it is professionally executed classy music, accessible to a wide audience, which definitely has its merits.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Krzysztof Herdzin – Jestes Swiatlem (2013)

Krzysztof Herdzin - keyboards & other instruments
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Cezary Konrad - drums
with
Marek Napiorkowski - guitar
Anna Maria Jopek - vocals
Dorota Miskiewicz - vocals
Grzegorz Turnau - vocals

UNIVERSAL 602537293872

By Adam Baruch

The Jazz & Poetry sub-genre is one of the pillars of Polish Jazz in particular, but also Polish Music in general, as it appears on the scene in many variations and crosses genre boundaries between Pop, Rock and Jazz since many decades. The abundance of great poets and poetesses as much as composers and performers, the intrinsic Polish lyricism and melancholy and the intellectual elitism of Polish Art evidently produce a fruitful ground for such meetings between words and music, which happen in the Polish Culture more often then anywhere else in the world.

This album by celebrated Polish Jazz pianist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin is his contribution to the Jazz & Poetry legacy. It presents eight original compositions and one arrangement of a song by the Polish 19th Century Romantic composer Karol Kurpinski to the words of a late 18th / early 19th Century poet Franciszek Karpinski, the father of Polish Sentimentalism. Of the eight compositions by Herdzin, one (the title track closing the album) is an instrumental and the others have lyrics by contemporary Polish poets: Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski (one of my favorite Polish poets) and Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer.

Herdzin assembled a dreamy team to record this music, which features him on keyboards and a plethora of other instruments, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Cezary Konrad. Guitarist Marek Napiorkowski guests on five tracks. The vocal tracks are sung by the legendary Anna Maria Jopek, Dorota Miskiewicz and Grzegorz Turnau. Herdzin himself sings on one track and adds background vocals on two more.

In spite of the truly excellent instrumental accompaniment and no less excellent vocals, the focus of this album is the original music, which spotlights Herdzin's talent as a composer. Diverse and often even contrasting in the many tempi and cross-genre excursions, from deep lyricism to exotic World Music themes, this music remains constantly beautifully melodic and round. It fits the various poems used as the lyrics perfectly, which is always a great challenge for any composer. Even though Herdzin is still a relatively young musician, his enormous experience and his many talents come to full fruition herein.

The instrumental work is pretty exciting as well, with Herdzin changing instruments more often that he changes his socks, playing all of them quite well, Kubiszyn playing some very nasty fretless bass parts that make the hair on your neck curl, Konrad keeps the entire ensemble rolling like only he can, and Napiorkowski adds some superbly tasty ornamentation. All three (or four in fact) vocalists are without reproach, with Jopek being (for me) divine as always, but the others not falling behind by any means. Turnau, who specializes in the Jazz & Poetry niche, sings most of the vocals, always with sensitivity and exquisite diction.

So here we have it, another great album by Maestro Herdzin, whose inexhaustible energies know no limits. Jazz & Poetry buffs will of course love this to bits, but for any cultural music connoisseur this is a piece of music worthy admiration and a source of many pleasurable moments.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Polish-Jazz blog provides media patronage for new album by Maciej Fortuna Trio !!!

Maciej Fortuna Trio

Maciej Fortuna – trumpet
Piotr Lemańczyk – double bass
Krzysztof Gradziuk – drums
Marta Podulka - vocals (track 07)

At Home (2013)





The new, already third album of Maciej Fortuna Trio is a very personal release which came into being in the home recording studio in December 2012. For the members of the band it is a fruit of months of working on the stage, a summary of the chequered past year, during which they played 89 concerts together. New compositions interwine with open forms. This is the first album in which Maciej Fortuna’s unique musical language outlines fully. The end result of this release would not feature its exceptional shape if it had not been for the equivalent input of each member of the Trio. The new recording is a bridge between the previous achievements of the complement and their new programme being under preparation for several months.

Tracks:

01. For Alice - Maciej Fortuna
02. Travel To Anhram - Maciej Fortuna
03. No Man's Land - Maciej Fortuna
04. Rivendell - Maciej Fortuna
05. Night - Maciej Fortuna
06. Prelude - Maciej Fortuna
07. Story in 4 Parts: I - Maciej Fortuna Trio
08. Story in 4 Parts: II - Maciej Fortuna Trio
09. Story in 4 Parts: III - Maciej Fortuna Trio
10. Story in 4 Parts: IV - Maciej Fortuna Trio
11. For Alice - Maciej Fortuna

Jarek Wist / Krzysztof Herdzin Big Band – Swinging With Sinatra (2013)

Jarek Wist - vocals
Krzysztof Herdzin - arranger, conductor


DUX 0090








By Adam Baruch


This is a live recording of a concert dedicated, as the title suggests, to the songs which were part of the classic repertoire of Frank Sinatra. The songs are performed by young Polish vocalist Jarek Wist, who is accompanied by a Big Band led and conducted by distinguished veteran pianist / composer / arranger Krzysztof Herdzin. The album includes fourteen tracks, twelve of which are standards from the Sinatra repertoire and two are original compositions by Herdzin, one used as an intro and the other as a showcase to present the members of the Big Band at mid-time.

Sinatra, who was often dismissed by narrow-minded Jazz buffs as a crooner and mere entertainer, was in fact one of the greatest American Jazz singers and had more swing in his toes alone than most others, certainly more than his critics. His very individual and unique treatments of the great American Songbook are the absolute Holy Grail of American Jazz vocals and remain untouched by time, incomparable, undefeated and uncontested. Especially notable are his superb recordings with Big Bands, like the Count Basie Orchestra and several others, arranged and conducted by such luminaries as Nelson Riddle, Neal Hefti or Quincy Jones. All these recordings are quintessential, pure and unadulterated Jazz classics. It is simply impossible to listen to this album without comparing it, for example, to the classic "Sinatra At The Sands", recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones.

Unfortunately the comparison doesn't leave much space to remain positive about this album, which is a great pity, since the intentions were probably quite honorable and the participants are all excellent musicians. I can understand Herdzin willing to step into the shoes of the great Big Band arrangers of the past and indeed his part as the arranger is probably the best ingredient of the entire package. However even these arrangements sound rather pale and lack the zest and the kick which characterize the original Sinatra recordings. I have no idea if the Big Band had ample opportunity to rehearse and considering the economic realities of a Big Band, they most probably did not, which is immediately apparent. As already stated, the participating musicians, who include pianist Piotr Wrombel, guitarist Marek Napiorkowski, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and drummer Pawel Dobrowolski and thirteen additional brass and reed players, are all able and talented musicians, but obviously have limited opportunities to show their skills within the Big Band collective when accompanying a lead singer.

Wist is a rather ordinary singer, completely lacking the theatrical and humorous sides of Sinatra's stage persona. His interpretations of these classic standards are simply dull and often imperfect technically. And of course there is the dreaded Polish accent and pronunciation, which is perhaps acceptable on the local market but completely unbearable to an English speaker. It's a pity the producers of this album did not consider the additional step of getting the lyrics translated into Polish; this might have saved the day, al least to some extent. Even the audience's applause present at the hall where this music was recorded sounds hesitant and weary and the sound quality of the recording suffers from uneven volume, poor separation and overall muddy resonance.

In retrospect this was a lost case before it even begun. Tackling the enormity of Sinatra's talent, heritage and status is not a very wise decision and such things are usually best left alone. The old saying: "a smart man knows how to get out of trouble but the wise man knows how to avoid trouble in the first place" is very appropriate here. During the concert Herdzin complains about the difficulty of his multi-talented persona (he not only arranged the songs, composed two pieces and conducted the band, but also plays the piano on one track and sings on another). Perhaps there is a lesson here for him, since after all he is an extremely talented person. On the other hand those who don't do don't make mistakes, and he surely does a lot.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sylwester Ostrowski Quartet - Don't Explain (2013)

Sylwester Ostrowski Quartet

Sylwester Ostrowski - tenor sax
Reggie Moore - piano
Wayne Dockery - double bass
Newman T. Baker - drums

Sylwester Ostrowski Quartet (2013)



By Maciej Nowotny

I love Polish jazz, I suppose few can doubt this. But if Polish jazz were like this record, I would hate it! With all my heart! I would stop listening to it and bury all my records deep in the cellar. No! Better I would burn them all so there would be no chance that some other person stumble into such a deadly trap.

But why am I so exasperated? Many of my colleagues are not, indeed to my complete astonishment, they compliment this counterfeit as something true and original. But it isn't! I can say what I already repeated so many times: jazz is a kind of music, more, kind of life approach, totally OPPOSITE to copying, imitating, duplicating. And that's what this whole album is ALL about! Not only all songs are thousand times played standards but they are also reproduced by American musicians (Reggie Moore on piano, Wayne Dockery on double bass and Newman T. Baker on drums) in completely emotionless way. Dream fulfilled of jazz as desired by Marsalis clan! But from my point of view what a incredible waste of talent of so many gifted musicians!

But it is not all! On top of all this is a leader of this ensamble saxophonist Sylwester Ostrowski. Let me ask my noble colleagues jazz journalists and critics: are you deaf? Don't you hear this guy simple cannot play his instrument? He is never in tempo with other players, his tone in uncontrolled, his phrase shapeless. True, I admire his enthusiasm towards jazz but, please, we must not mix amateurs with professionals! If we rally care about music we love so much! If we want it to remain, as Polish Jazz, a synonym of the highest quality of art, of something special in this country culture landscape! Please, just stop it!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

New Trio – Perpendicular Realities (2013)

Jan Smoczynski - Hammond organ
Mateusz Smoczynski - violin
Alex Zinger - drums

TMP 004






By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by the New Trio ensemble, which consists of Polish brothers: Jan Smoczynski, who plays Hammond organ and composed most of the music herein and Mateusz Smoczynski, who plays violin and is completed by Russian drummer Alex Zinger. The album includes twelve original compositions, seven of which were composed by Jan and the remaining five are credited to all the trio members.

Aesthetically the music continues exactly from the point where their stunning debut left off and presents more of the same unique sound, which exists only within the particular Hammond / violin / drums setting and which has but a few predecessors, most of which are French, where the violin has a firm position as a leading Jazz instrument. The superb Jean-Luc Ponty / Eddy Louiss / Daniel Humair trio immediately comes to mind as a point of reference. The same "retro" atmosphere, which characterized the debut album, is maintained here as well. The result however losses the surprise effect, that exemplified the reaction to the debut.

But surprised or not, the listeners will find here all the ingredients that make music great and worth listening to: superb compositions and first-class performances. Although well within the Jazz mainstream this music keeps the listener on edge, never being obvious or overtly predictable, with intellectual and emotional approaches intertwined. The diverse tempi enable showcases of different compositional tools, which work out very effectively.

As for performances, this album is full of exceptional playing with the violin work by Mateusz being simply virtuosic from start to finish. He is quickly establishing himself as one of the leading violinist not only in Poland, but now also on a worldwide scale and is surely destined to get far. But both Jan and Alex don't fall far behind and their contributions are first-rate every step of the way.

Overall this is a splendid piece of music and a commendable follow up to their debut effort. Having passed the dreaded "second album" trial with flying colors, they now have a carte blanche to continue this path as far as I'm concerned. Both Jazz violin and Hammond organ connoisseurs will absolutely love this album from start to finish and it is wholeheartedly recommended to every Jazz enthusiast.

We must not forget also the fact that Jan Smoczynski is not only a great musician, but also one of the top (if not the top) sound engineers in Poland and his legendary Studio Tokarnia, where this album was recorded, is one of the best in Europe and produced a myriad of albums of extraordinary sound quality. Hats off!

Waclaw Zimpel Quartet – Stone Fog (2013)

Wacław Zimpel Quartet 

Wacław Zimpel - bass clarinet, alto & Bb clarinet, tarogato, overtone flute
Krzysztof Dys - piano
Christian Ramond - double bass
Klaus Kugel - drums, percussion

Stone Fog (For Tune, 2013)

By Dirk Blasejezak

Despite his young age Wacław Zimpel for me is one of the most important personalities in the field of free and improvised jazz in Poland. And this is not only because of his many collaborations with Polish and international artists, but above all because of his special style. Already with the first songs I heard from him I got the feeling that this must be something special, and since then I have been following his development with greatest interest.

Wacław Zimpel’s compositions outline in a very profound way emotions or ideas of which the listener gets a very precise idea from with just the first few bars. And that applies not only to the recordings on "Stone Fog" but runs through all his work. Despite the precise notion he always leaves some space - not because he could not spin the particular thought to the end or wouldn’t like to describe the emotion to the last detail - but because every emotion and every idea needs a context. And this context he creates with his fellow musicians during the improvisations in the studio and on stage - especially in his solos. There he formulates any emotion out in an incredibly captivating way. If he wants to transmit a feeling, one cannot avoid empathy since he unlike many other musicians in Free Jazz stays within his compositions - he doesn’t stick to strict notation but to the underlying idea. His solos are not identical, they are not schematically - they are actually free. And yet you know at all times what he wanted to say at the beginning of a piece. He always seems to attempt that you as a listener understand him - there aren’t many musicians that have the desire or perhaps the ability to transport something with their music. The wonderful thing about this is that you do not even have to force yourself to listen to him through to the end - you just want to know exactly what he tries to say. It is simply a pleasure to enjoy free improvisation with such depth. This depth can be heard especially well on this album as it appears to me, despite the described similarities with his other work, more harmoniously - perhaps more private.

If you want to learn more about his background and his technical approach, you should definitely read the interview by Bartek Adamczak (http://polish-jazz.blogspot.de/2012/02/waclaw-zimpel-interviewed-by-bartek.html)! And if you don’t know the earlier works of Wacław Zimpel, I recommend the self-titled "Hera" - for me, this album remains one of the best albums of the year 2010! But of course his other projects like "The Light" and "Undivided" should be part of every collection. It’s also from the latter band "Undivided" that Wacław Zimpel and Klaus Kugel know each other. And their collaboration seems to work out quite well, as in the above interview, Wacław Zimpel told Bartek Adamczak about his plans for a new project with him. Also discussed on this blog ist another work of these two: "Tyle Tego Ty" (Milobedzka / Zimpel - http://polish-jazz.blogspot.de/2012/12/milobedzka-zimpel-tyle-tego-ty-2012.html), a project where they could gain experience with the bassist Christian Ramond, that apparently went so well that he too was involved in the quartet for "Stone Fog". The only new member in this circle is Krzysztof Dys who gathered fame mainly with "Soundcheck".

So Wacław Zimpel compiled for the first project that carries his name a Polish-German-quartet that blends together very well indeed. (Although there were some minor coordination problems at the record release concert in Berlin, but that was probably because it was the first concert of this formation and because of the rather small audience.) I'm pretty sure that this record will help to acquaint the name of this quartet and thus its leader to a wider audience outside of Poland. A recommendation is this album by all means!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Marek Jakubowski Trio – My Own … (2013)

Adam Bieranowski - piano
Piotr Max Wisniewski - bass
Marek Jakubowski - drums

RECART 0007






By Adam Baruch


This is a beautiful debut album by young Polish Jazz drummer / composer Marek Jakubowski, who leads a classic piano trio with pianist Adam Bieranowski and bassist Piotr Max Wisniewski. The album comprises of eleven original compositions, all by Jakubowski, three of which are short (a minute or less) interludes, i.e. there are eight full scale compositions altogether.

The focus of this album is the level of the compositions, which are all simply outstanding. Deeply rooted in Jazz tradition, they mange to present a fresh look at composition, which amalgamates a myriad of influences, starting with the intrinsically Polish melancholy and including odd meters, subtle World Music themes, vamping and repeated riffs, extra slow tempo and countless other tricks of the trade, which probably partly come about subconsciously. Nevertheless this music is first class – a fresh breath of air within the "mainstream" approach, which so often tends to be simply boring.

Combined with the superb level of execution by the trio, these compositions achieve full bloom and turn into a most pleasurable listening experience. All three musicians show a great level of respect towards each other and even though the drummer is the trio's leader there are no unnecessary solo spots just to prove it. In fact there is a perfect balance between the instruments, with the piano obviously stating the melody and harmony, as well as most of the improvised parts and the rhythm section supports it with a solid and empathetic embrace. The strength of a piano trio is never just a total of the individual talents of its members, must above all the level of cooperation and mutual interplay they are able to generate, as is splendidly shown here.

As usual in such cases my heart fills up with pride and joy every time a representative of the young generation of the Polish Jazz scene comes up with a project, which clearly shows that the heritage will be continued in the years to come. Those young musicians grow up musically much faster than decades earlier and by the time they graduate from music academies they are already accomplished musicians with a level of maturity that never ceases to amaze.

Overall this is an admirable debut, which immediately points out to keep the names of these musicians on the "watched" list, hoping to hear from them again. Every piano trio connoisseur in the world should be able to enjoy this music to the fullest, as I did. Well done indeed!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

El Greco – Sing Cuckoo (2013)

Jorgos Skolias - vocals
Joachim Mencel - keyboards
DJ Krime - turtablism
Andrzej Swies - bass
Harry Tanschek - drums

INSPIRAFON 02




By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by Polish ensemble El Greco, led by keyboardist / composer Joachim Mencel, which also includes vocalist Jorgos Skolias, DJ Krime who performs turntablism, bassist Andrzej Swies and Austrian drummer Harry Tanschek. The album includes ten tracks, eight of which are songs and the remaining two instrumental pieces. The eight songs are all composed by Mencel to lyrics by Polish poets (five of the songs, naturally sung in Polish) and literary texts in English (the remaining three, sung in English). One of the instrumentals is a group composition and the remaining one is by Gil Evans.

This is obviously quite an ambitious project, well within the Jazz & Poetry realm, which seems to be a favorite of the Polish music scene. However, contrary to many splendid efforts in this area this album leaves me quite cold. It's quite difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for my opinion, but somehow the mixture of complex, sophisticated poetry with the rather simplistic music does not work for me. Anybody engaging in the poems of Cyprian Kamil Norwid must be aware of their masterly interpretation by the legendary Niemen or more recently by Stan Borys and in comparison the versions presented here seem to be quite pale.

The music seems to be by and large based on blues themes, with a modernistic rhythm patterns emphasized by the turntablism. There is a limited space for serious improvisation and the atmosphere is more of an alterative Rock album than a Jazz album, which of course might be just what the ensemble (or the leader) wanted to achieve. The only thing that makes this album enjoyable as far as I'm concerned is the truly excellent work by Andrzej Swies, who emerges as the star of this particular project and without whom this music simply wouldn't work at all. As usually the attempt to sing in English proves to be fatal.

Overall this is not a bad album and many people will probably enjoy it, but I just can't seem to be able to warm up towards it. Mea culpa!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Kasia Stankowska Quartet – Nie Ma Szczescia Bez Milosci (2013)

Kasia Stankowska - vocals
Lukasz Perek - piano, trombone
Jakub Olejnik - bass
Przemek Jarosz - drums
with
Maciej Sikala - saxophone

ARTMONIA 5902768831009



By Adam Baruch


Polish pianist / composer Wladyslaw Szpilman was one of the great icons of the country's musical scene for many decades. He achieved popularity already as a very young and exceptional pianist in the 1930s. During the Nazi occupation of Poland during WW II Szpilman, who was a Jew, was hiding in Warsaw and managed to survive the Holocaust, helped by his Polish friends and even a German officer, who was a music connoisseur. Szpilman's WW II fortunes were the subject of his memoirs and after his death in 2000 it was the subject of Roman Polanski's movie "The Pianist", which won three Oscars and worldwide acceptance as a cinematic masterpiece.

The lesser know facts about Szpilman, certainly outside of Poland, are his numerous activities in post-war years as the director of Music Department of the Polish Radio, creator of the Sopot Song Contest, which runs now consecutively for over fifty years, composer of many Classical works, concert pianist touring worldwide and additionally also author of hundreds of songs, many of which were extremely popular and eventually became evergreens.

This album by Polish Jazz vocalist Kasia Stankowska takes twelve of Szpilman's popular songs and presents them in Jazzed up versions. She is supported by a trio with pianist Lukasz Perek, who is also responsible for the arrangements, bassist Jakub Olejnik and drummer Przemyslaw Jarosz. Saxophonist Maciej Sikala is the guest star and contributes some spectacular solos on several of the songs.

Stankowska has a worm and expressive voice, which suits these songs ideally. The piano trio accompanying her does a perfect job, creating a nostalgic atmosphere of a smoky cabaret set sometime in the late 1950s / early 1960s, which I still recall from my childhood, when I was often smuggled under heavy long coat into these sinful establishments, getting my first-hand Jazz experiences. The piano parts are brilliantly arranged and perfectly executed and the rhythm section keeps the music steady and firm, with delicate dynamics and intelligent accents, always at the right moments. Sikala adds great ornamentation, breaking the nostalgic and relaxed mood with his delicate yet forceful solos, which shine like white pearls on a black dress. Szpilman's status allowed him to select superb lyrics to his songs, written by famous Polish poets and lyricist, that are classy, coherent and elegant, and Stankowska makes the best of that asset, which deserves a special mention.

All in all this is a most pleasant and rewarding musical experience, a classic example of "less is more". Keeping a low profile and avoiding excessive experimentation proves exactly right in this case. Beautifully simple, but not simplistic, beautifully melodic, but nor trivial, beautifully lyrical, but not banal…just beautiful. Diana Krall, eat you hat!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Irek Wojtczak – The Bees' Knees (2013)

Irek Wojtczak - tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Kamil Pater - guitar
Adam Zuchowski - bass
Kuba Staruszkiewich - drums

Sopocka Odessa 008





By Adam Baruch


Jazz is the Art of the unexpected and unexpected is exactly what the listener will get while listening to this music. Although saxophonist / composer Irek Wojtczak, a native of the Baltic Tricity, has an established reputation on the contemporary Polish Jazz scene, he certainly does not allow anybody to conveniently put him and his music in a tight niche, which would characterize his music. Constantly developing, probing and expanding his milieu, which over time covered such diverse areas as mainstream Jazz, Jazz-World Fusion, Jazz-Rock Fusion and experimental Free Jazz, Wojtczak with his chameleonic ability to fit in any environment and to do it splendidly, is a superb example of a modern Jazz musician.

The music presented here is first and foremost an expression of individual freedom within the boundaries of a collective. The four musicians truly play together here, but at the same time allow each other a lot of individual space. There are clearly defined melodies and chord changes, but the music turns and twists constantly in each and every direction – harmonic, rhythmic and thematic. There are impressive solos, elegant group improvisations and intelligent moves on behalf of all the participants. Wojtczak, who composed all the music herein, is a very liberal leader, which results in collective creativity rather than musical conformity or obedience. The choice of the guitar, rather than piano, as the quartet's harmonic instrument suits Wojtczak's music ideally in this case. All that remains is to hop on and enjoy the ride!

Side Note: The above are my liner notes for this album. I was honored to be asked by Irek to write them and thank him for his confidence.

This album, recorded with guitarist Kamil Pater, bassist Adam Zuchowski and drummer Kuba Staruszkiewicz, is in many respects a direct continuation of the previous meeting between Wojtczak and Pater, which produced the superb "A-Kineton" album, and expands the cooperation between these two musicians even further. It presents eight original compositions, all by Wojtczak, which span a wide range of moods and emotions, all being Free spiritually, but firmly attached to melodic themes, creating a unique overall effect of elegant anarchy. The solo work and the team work of all the quartet members are simply amazing.

Wojtczak emerges here as a rightful member of the elite of Polish Jazz, a status he earned fair and square by years of playing with countless other musicians as a sideman and leader, recording and most importantly constantly developing, always embracing new ideas and never allowing himself to be trapped for too long in one place.

This piece of music is the epitome of modern Jazz, well beyond Fusion, Free and any other specific sub-genre, as it encompasses them all; a true amalgam. Definitely not to be missed!
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