Friday, November 29, 2013

Jerzy Milian – When Where Why (2012) ***1/2

Jerzy Milian - vibraphone / composer

GAD 005









By Adam Baruch

The Polish GAD Records label has become a treasure chest of archival recordings by Polish Jazz and Rock artists and in the short period of time since 2010, when the label released its first album, it established its position on the market as a dedicated and reliable source of interesting material. This album follows the already established pattern and is the first volume of archival material by legendary Polish Jazz vibraphonist / composer Jerzy Milian, one of the forefathers of modern Polish Jazz.

The material collected here was recorded over a period of several years in the 1970s by the East German Rundfunk Tanzorchester Berlin conducted by Gunter Gollash, which included many excellent players, some known also internationally like the legendary saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrovsky. Milian worked with the orchestra for many years, writing and recording a lot of quite diverse music with them.

The music presented here, all composed by Milian, consists of fifteen relatively shorter pieces, which exemplify the "lighter" side of his composer's milieu, which of course does not mean the music is of lesser quality or sophistication. The melodies are all quite superbly crafted and the orchestral arrangements are all splendid and interesting. It is less adventurous material than some of Milian's other compositions, but lacks nothing as far as compositional skills, flair and elegance are concerned. The orchestra performs the music spotlessly and with grace and as a result this is a wonderful Big Band / orchestral album, which reflects well on Milian's talent and vision. It is also a great example of European Big Band / orchestral sound and style, which varies considerably from its American counterparts.

In retrospect these recordings are a sad reminder of the Big Band form, which is almost extinct today in comparison to its hay days. With the impossible economics behind keeping a Big Band performing and touring and a dwindling public funding, most Big Bands, including the one present here, were eventually disbanded, an omen of a disappearing Culture. They also present a little known facet of European Jazz, which bloomed under the surface behind the Iron Curtain, even in the DDR and East Berlin, which were always considered as the epicenter of Socialist conservatism, cultural and otherwise, and oppression of "forbidden" Western influences. And yet the wide open eyes of the censorship often missed some truly daring escapades happening just under its nose. This is definitely one of such cases.

With remastered and restored sound and informative booklet (including text in English), this album is definitely worth checking out by any connoisseur of European Jazz, looking for another perspective.

Maciej Fortuna / Krzysztof Dys – Tropy (2013) ****1/2

Maciej Fortuna - trumpet
Krzysztof Dys - piano

FM 011









This is the debut recording by the Polish Jazz duo comprising of trumpeter / composer Maciej Fortuna and pianist Krzysztof Dys. Fortuna is a relatively new arrival on the local scene, but his prolific and outstanding achievements in the last few years are so impressive, that he immediately emerged as a serious candidate to become a member in the very exclusive club of top Polish Jazz musicians. Dys, with a slightly longer presence on the scene is primarily known as a member of the wonderful Soundcheck quartet. The album includes seven original compositions all co-composed by the duo, and was recorded inside a church, which adds a wonderful ambience to the recording.

From the opening notes of this album, any listener familiar with the Polish Jazz scene is immediately transferred a few decades into the past, when the Polish Jazz scene was majestically emerging in the late 1960s as one of the most important Jazz World centers. A young trumpeter named Tomasz Stanko was one of the great hopes of that scene and in years to come he evolved into one of the top World Jazz Masters. Fortuna's playing evokes exactly the same feelings and emotions, which early Stanko recordings stirred then. The same vibrato, staccato, tone and even melodic motifs are present here, with the same intensity, expressiveness and brilliance. Also the unusual setting of a trumpet / piano duo has been utilized by Stanko some thirty years earlier on the album "Korozje" recorded with pianist Andrzej Kurylewicz.

Of course the tonal similarity does not imply, not even in the slightest, that this is a form of replication or copying pre-existing music. On the contrary, this music, in spite of the fact that it brings up fond memories of great music from the past, is completely and utterly original. Fortuna and Dys, who emerges as a wonderful co-creator, manage to create a world of their own, where the combination of the two spirits turns out to become greater that the sum of its ingredients. The music portrays a rare affinity between musicians who shift lead responsibilities between themselves, compliment each other with great sensitivity, respect each other's space and individuality and above all communicate. Consequently this is not only an example of great music but also a living proof of camaraderie and musical co-existence of the highest level.

This album is surely one of the strongest releases on the Polish Jazz scene in 2013 and a candidate to the "classic" status in the days to come. It is also probably the strongest statement made so far by Fortuna, although all his recordings to date are simply excellent. I'd even go as far as saying that I wish Maestro Stanko would return to playing music like this one… This album is an absolute must to every Polish / European Jazz connoisseur!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Janusz Muniak – Crazy Girl (2009) ***

Janusz Muniak - saxophone
Wojciech Puszek - piano
Zbigniew Wegehaupt - bass
George Buckner - drums

ANEX 322







This is the third album as a leader by the veteran Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Janusz Muniak, recorded live with his quartet, which also included pianist Wojciech Puszek, bassist Zbigniew Wegehaupt and American drummer George Buckner. They play only four compositions, one of which is an original by Muniak, another is by the Godfather of Polish Jazz, Krzysztof Komeda (the title track) and the remaining two are standards.

Although well played the album offers no innovation whatsoever and is simply one more Be Bop set, which is quite forgettable. The leader plays some mighty solos, which are, as always in his case, quite incredible and virtuosic, but the overall effect remains pretty unremarkable.

The album also suffers from a pretty amateurish sound quality, which often victimized live Polish Jazz recordings, with mobile recording equipment in the Socialist country being sadly sub-standard. Nevertheless it is a document both of the times and of Muniak's legacy, and therefore definitely worth listening and enjoying his bravado performances.

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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mozdzer/Danielsson/Fresco - Polska (2013) *****

Mozdzer/Danielsson/Fresco

Leszek Możdżer - piano, celesta, vibraphone, synth
Lars Danielsson - cello, bass
Zohar Fresco - percussion, vocal

Polska (2013)





The Pole Leszek Możdżer is "a phenomenon" (Süddeutsche Zeitung). "His finely grained virtuosity is fascinating entertainment that is unrivalled in the contemporary piano craft" (FAZ). Already a star in his homeland, and in Europe the most important Polish jazz musician of his generation after Tomasz Stańko, the 42 year-old pianist from Danzig is the embodiment of the current journey of European jazz. A journey back to its roots, and at the same time to new shores: a classical education, the awareness of the own musical tradition, is almost always the basis for exploring one's own worlds of sound with masterly technique. And so it is with Możdżer, who didn't discover jazz until he was 18, to then quickly combine it with other forms. A distinctly individual sound resulted, a personal form of expression that is unmista...

(source: press release)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jaroslaw Smietana – From One To Four (2009) ****

Jaroslaw Smietana - guitar
Janusz Muniak - saxophone
Piotr Baron - saxophone
Krzysztof Scieranski - bass
Antoni Debski - bass
Jacek Pelc - drums

APEX 328





This is the second album as a leader by the fabulous Polish Jazz guitarist / composer Jaroslaw Smietana, who died recently tragically prematurely, succumbing to cruel illness. Smietana was one of the most active players on the local scene and contributed enormously to its development over the years. This album presents him, as the title suggests, in different settings: solo, duo, trio and quartet, playing with some of the best Polish Jazz musicians active at the time: saxophonists Janusz Muniak and Piotr Baron, bassists Krzysztof Scieranski and Antoni Debski and drummer Jacek Pelc. They perform eleven compositions, five of which are originals: three by Smietana and one each by Scieranski and Pelc, and the rest of the material is all standards.

This is one of the Jazziest albums recorded by Smietana, with fewer Fusion ventures, and his beautiful Jazz sensitivity is especially apparent herein. But all the other players also contribute very fine examples of intelligent, intimate musical conversations with the leader. Scieranski's bass and Baron's saxophone are simply delightful. Smietana experiments with the guitar synthesizers and performs on three quite distinctly sounding guitars, with his delicate touch being definitely one of the finest ever. Also the three duets with veteran saxophonist Janusz Muniak are among the album's most enchanting moments.

In retrospect this is a very strong album from start to finish with no weak moments or unnecessary "fillers", and a superb legacy which Smietana left for all of us to enjoy. A must for all Polish Jazz fans!

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.

Spór o "Polskę"!!!


* Ten felieton stanowi część polemiki w jaką wdaliśmy się z Maciejem Karłowskim na łamach jazzarium.pl. Oto link do całego wpisu z godną lektury repliką Macieja na mój tekst: LINK

Najnowsza płyta Leszka Możdżera zatytułowana “Polska” wywoła zachwyt publiczności i niesmak wśród krytyków, zwłaszcza na drogim mojemu sercu portalu jazzarium.pl. Założymy się? Proszę! Koniecznie! Zróbcie to, bo jedną z moich słabości jest to, że lubię wygrywać.

Krytycy, zresztą słusznie, zmiażdżą kolejną płytę Leszka zarzucając jej brak ambicji, wtórność i nachalne wdzięczenie się do publiczności. Szczególnie będzie ich jednak drażnić głupota tych kolegów-dziennikarzy, którzy nie znając się ani jotę na jazzie będą wychwalać w różnych mass mediach geniusz Możdżera jakby był on drugim Milesem, Coltranem i Evansem w jednym. Ale trudno przecież winić tego artystę za brak krytycyzmu i szerzącą się wśród dziennikarzy chorobę panegiryzmu? To tak jakbym z powodu trapiących mnie hemoroidów chciał zastrzelić drozda, który przysiadł na drzewie w moim ogrodzie i śpiewa.

Nie jestem idiotą! A może jestem? Bo czasami wydaje mi się, że bezmyślmość panegirystów piszących o takim na przykład Możdżerze, Stańce czy Mazolewskim jest wprost proporcjonalna do zacietrzewienia tych, którzy podobnie jak i ja niekiedy, tylko w nie dającym się słuchać free jazzie widzą zbawienie. Jednak chociaż kocham szaleństwa takiego na przykład Damasiewicza, uwielbiam Obarę czy zdumiewa mnie to co wyczynia w swoim NRD-owskim dresie Masecki, to muzyki żadnego z nich nie włączę sobie do porannej kawy. A nie wyobrażam sobie życia bez tego płynu i celebruję miłe z nim chwile jak niejeden mszę świętą.

Chcecie znać prawdę? Moje serce należy do Ani! Idea stara jak świat, znajdziecie ją jeszcze u Arystotelesa. Ani za dużo awangardy. Ani za dużo głównego nurtu. Ani za dużo popu. Niczego zanadto! Wszystkiego po troszku. A szczególnie oczekiwałbym po muzykach empatii w stosunku do słuchacza. Poważnie! Bo kiedy w domu włączam muzykę takiego na przykład Cecila Taylora to moje małżeństwo wisi na włosku, a Możdżera nawet nie muszę, żona sama wyszukuje sobie na półce.

Że Możdżer cementuje małżeństwa tego chyba jeszcze nie napisał żaden panegirysta! Ale któż zaprzeczy, że muzyka na tym albumie jest rewelacyjnie wprost zagrana? Że melodie są wspaniale napisane? A interpretacja “Are You Experienced?” Hendrixa po prostu powalająca jak kiedyś Możdżera wersja “Prawa i pięści” na innym jego krążku “Komeda”? Że współpraca pianisty z grającym na kontrabasie Larsem Danielssonem i na perkusjonaliach Zoharem Fresco po prostu perfekcyjna w każdym calu? Wolę ich wyrafinowanie i cudowne panowanie nad dźwiękiem niż kolejny album post-brotzmannowskich postękiwań jakimi darzy nas na swoich wydawanych z szybkością karabinu maszynowego płytach taki na przykład otaczany kultem przez free jazzową publikę Ken Vandermark.

Ostatnia już metafora i koniec tego tekstu: chociaż jeśli chodzi o kulturę mam raczej dość wyrafinowane gusta to czy jestem jedyny, który gdyby miał się żywić, jeśli chodzi o taki na przykład film, samym Bunuelem, Godardem czy Fellinim to zdechłby jak pies? Raczej częściej niż rzadziej potrzebuję obejrzeć coś ze Schwarzeneggerem i podobają mi się też, nieważne jak perwersyjnie by to zabrzmiało, filmy w rodzaju “Obcego”. W tych kategoriach umieściłbym album Możdżera “Polska”. Nie wiem czy to by go ucieszyło, ale dla mnie jest i Schwarzeneggerem i Obcym polskiego jazzu w jednym, za co bardzo mu pragnę podziękować!

Autor: Maciej Nowotny


Monday, November 25, 2013

Karolak / Urbaniak / Bartkowski – Moving South (2009) ****

Wojciech Karolak - keyboards
Michal Urbaniak - violin
Czeslaw Bartkowski - drums

ANEX 314






By Adam Baruch


This is the only album recorded by the fabulous Polish Jazz trio, comprising of keyboardist / composer Wojciech Karolak, violinist / saxophonist / composer Michal Urbaniak and legendary drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski. In many respects this is a companion album to the groundbreaking album by the Michal Urbaniak Constellation, which was released as part of the Polish Jazz series ("In Concert", Vol.36) and recorded the same year as this album. Both Karolak and Bartkowski were members of Constellation and therefore it's hardly surprising that stylistically the music is very similar.

The album includes five compositions (one is a three-part suite), four by Karolak and one by Urbaniak, which can be roughly categorized as Jazz-Rock Fusion, but they are so unique and eons ahead of their time that simplistic labeling is not doing them justice. This is truly visionary music, capturing all three musicians at the peak of their creative powers. Although Karolak composed most of the music on this album, Urbaniak's concept of Fusion / Funk are the primary forces at work here. His use of electronics to enhance the sound of his violin is simply brilliant and completely innovative. Karolak plays also brilliantly, with his Hammond ripping the sound-space to shreds. Bartkowski is driving the music forward like mad, being the Jazziest element of the music, busy but not intrusive, with fantastic polyrhythmic feel and incredible technique.

In retrospect this is one of the most important Polish Fusion albums, which sadly remains mostly unknown even to the local fans and especially so abroad. This reissue creates another chance for this album to be re-discovered, and I recommend to all the Fusion diehard fans to start looking for this gem ASAP!

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.

Marek Blizinski – Wave (2009) ***

Marek Blizinski - guitar
Pawel Jarzebski - bass
Zbigniew Wegehaupt - bass
Janusz Stefanski - drums
Czeslaw Bartkowski - drums

ANEX 327




By Adam Baruch


This is the only album as a leader recorded by Polish Jazz guitarist Marek Blizinski, who was one of the first Jazz guitar players on the local scene. He was a very in-demand session player and participated in many recordings as well as recording with several groups of which he was a formal member, led by such Polish Jazz luminaries like Michal Urbaniak, Wojciech Karolak, Zbigniew Namyslowski and Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski. He was a brilliant improviser and had a wonderful tone, which ornamented many important Polish Jazz recordings.

His solo career, however, never really took off and this was the only album he managed to release as a leader, before his untimely and tragic death at the age of 42. The album consists of two radio sessions, with Blizinski playing on both in a trio format, first with bassist Pawel Jarzebski and drummer Janusz Stefanski and then with bassist Zbigniew Wegehaupt and drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski. Both these rhythm sections are considered to be among the best ones ever active on the local scene. The album includes seven compositions, all of which are standards.

Although well played, both by Blizinski and the rhythm sections, this album does not present his true abilities and sensitivities and in retrospect is unfortunately much less impressive than it could have been. Playing these standards, which present no true intellectual challenge for these experienced musicians, was a poor decision. His numerous recordings with other artists are much more impressive.

Guitar enthusiasts will obviously find here many beautiful moments of mainstream Jazz, with are every bit as good as those recorded across the pond. Definitely worth remembering!

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.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beata Pater - Golden Lady (2013) ** 1/2

Beata Pater 

Beata Pater - vocal
Hiromu Aoki - piano
Buca Necak - double bass

Golden Lady (2013)






This is an album created by a uniquely formed jazz trio whose artistic chemistry surpasses cultural distinctions, led by vocalist Beata Pater whose international jazz career earned her a CBS/Sony recording contract during her ten years in Japan.

It was twenty-five years ago on one of the rare day’s that Beata wasn’t performing or traveling Japan that she serendipitously met pianist Hiromu Aoki. Arduously searching for the right pianist to complete her trio – after finding Serbian-born acoustic bass player Buca Necak – she decided to visit a jazz club in her then hometown of Yokohama. It was here that Beata heard a performance by pianist Hiromu Aoki for the very first time. “Immediately I knew he was ‘the one’,” Beata recalls. Instantly drawn to the pianist, she introduced herself after the performance, eagerly convincing him to take the hour’s drive with her into Tokyo to hear the acoustic bass player perform, in spite of them being strangers.

After Aoki heard Buca’s performance, they instantly fell in love with each other’s artistry, as all three perfectly clicked. “Trying to form a band with the [right] chemistry where everyone’s ‘on purpose’,” as Beata explains, “is difficult and contingent on musicianship and style.” That was the night this musical partnership began, continuing to this day - their musical acquaintance over twenty-five years is a natural connection that ignites each time they perform.

(source: press release)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oleś Brothers & Jorgos Skolias - Sefardix (ForTune, 2013) ****

Oleś Brothers & Jorgos Skolias

Jorgos Skolias - voice
Marcin Oleś - double bass
Bartłomiej Brat Oleś - drums

Sefardix (ForTune, 2013)





By Dirk Blasejezak

So it’s the Oleś Brothers again… My relationship with the two brothers is a very special one. There is probably no Polish Jazz formation I've seen more often performing live and in different combinations. Nonetheless, I'm still not sure what I to think of the two. After each concert and all I hear from them I think: "That was all right," but there is also a tiny voice saying "but there could be more."

I suspect everyone knows one artist of which he or she expects exactly that one piece of art he/she’s been waiting for. For me those are the Oleś Brothers! Maybe that’s the reason I judge them so hard, it’s simply that I expect from them no less than my future favorite album for the next few years - the downside is: they just do not give it to me! Everything about them: style, attitude, expression, non-conformism - everything I want from my favorite band, but the result never completely convinced me yet.

Unfortunately this record neither is the one. The reason for this is Jorgos Skolias - but please don’t understand this a negative rating! His special way to use his voice and the compositions on this album are simply too dominant, the Oleś Brothers degenerate here in most cases to a mere rhythm section. Last year I had already the opportunity to see these three live and had there a very similar impression. There too it appeared to me that Brat Oleś played very reserved, long passages he played his drumheads with his bare hands (of course with the self-assurance he’s showing all the time). And only Marcin can excel at the bass here and there and set some accents. Of course this is higly subjective and caused solely by my expectations described above. Jorgos Skolias has an inimitable style to use his voice, or his whole body as an instrument, which you won’t find often in this form. However, if you - like me - expected a Polish jazz disk, you will surely be disappointed, because the pieces on this album are simply too “Greek” - even if this is too generalised. If the disk title is not to be misleading, the tradition of Jorgos Skolias’ singing might be the Sephardic music, based on the culture of a Jewish diaspora originally at home on the Iberian peninsula, which had a large community in Greece up to World War II.

To round this review up: Please try it yourself, this album is different! Personally I look at this album with an auspicious and a dropping eye. On the one hand it’s a wonderful album with some great melodies (you’ll hum all day) played and recorded perfectly that introduced me to a unique singer and to a culture I didn’t know, but on the other hand it seems I will have to go on waiting for my favorite record by the Oleś Brothers...


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NSI Quartet - Introducing (2013) ****

NSI Quartet

Cyprian Baszyński - trumpet
Bartek Prucnal - alto & soprano saxes
Mike Parker - double bass
Dawid Fortuna – drums

Introducing (2013)





It seems to me that I was first writer who few years ago started to use a term "renaissance" to describe what is going right now in Polish jazz. I found it appropriate since after a decade or two of stagnation during which only occasionally some creative sparks (like yass) lighted up the darkness, all of the sudden the young generation invaded the stage. They kind of rejuvenated a body which seemed long dead. Such a picture might be oversimplified but nonetheless I assume nobody can question the role of young musicians in recent resurgence of jazz music in Poland. That is why we have on our blog FOCUS ON DEBUT category and we regard albums featured in it as also the best among ALL released recordings in given year.

Now in this category we present you a very special recording which embodies what is the best in youngest generation of musicians in Poland. First of all it is very well performed which is due to the high level of education. Like many of his peers a two members of this collective - trumpeter Cyprian Baszyński and saxophonist Bartek Prucnal - are students of one of the best music academies in Poland, precisely the one located in Cracow. Furthermore, and that is also almost a rule, they are among them a lot of winners of many jazz contests and in this case this band won famous in Poland Jazz Juniors contest. What is now also frequent is that these young artists very soon start to collaborate with their colleagues from other countries. That's why we should not be surprised that in this band we find a American doublebassist Mike Parker who is is as young and as talented as the rest of the players in this band.

Dawid Fortuna, the drummer, is a bit different story. Though young as well he already graduated from Cracow school and, more importantly, has earned himself a name among jazz musicians in Poland. Regular member of Paweł Kaczmarczyk and Dominik Wania trios he is also playing in band called New Bone. Everywhere he is valued for his energetic yet technically impeccable style.

Now we move to the most important common feature of the projects of many young musicians who debut in recent years: unlike a decade or even 5 years ago this generation is much more looking to the future than to the past of jazz music. Sure they know, they respect and they use the great heritage of jazz music as a foundation for their own development. But as much these four musicians constituting NSI Quartet as many his colleagues they first of all try to experiment to find in jazz music what always was vital for it: that is something fresh, something personal and something which reflects the actual tastes of popular audience. All these augurs well for the future of our music, for the future of jazz in our country and bodes well also for the future of these for young artists of whom I am sure we will hear a lot of in years to come. Congratulations!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tomasz Stanko – Wislawa (2013) ****

Tomasz Stanko - trumpet
David Virelles - piano
Thomas Morhan - bass
Geral Cleaver - drums

ECM 2304/05





By Adam Baruch

I always try to write about albums as soon as possible after they arrive on my desk and then dwell a while in my CD player. Usually these immediate reflections about music turn out to be accurate, as far as I am concerned, and when I read them later, sometimes years later, my initial opinion remains unchanged. This album is a very special and unusual case, as I've let almost a year pass by since I've heard this music for the first time, holding my tongue. Polish trumpeter / composer Tomasz Stanko has been (and still is) one of my absolute top Artists for decades and my admiration towards his music lasted unshaken for all that time… until this album. When I heard it for the first time my initial reaction was a kind of disappointment, which of course I found quite shocking and improbable. Therefore I decided not to write a review for the time being. In the time that passed since, I've listened to the album repeatedly and also heard this music live.

During the three years that passed between the time he recorded his previous album ("Dark Eyes") with a Scandinavian band and the recording of this album, Stanko deepened his ties with New York, taking a permanent residence there and establishing a new quartet, which he calls the New York Quartet. It comprises of himself and three American musicians: pianist David Virelles (aged 29 at the time of the recording, of Cuban origin, who arrived in NY in 2009), bassist Thomas Morgan (aged 31, an upcoming bass player who took part in recording of no less than five albums for ECM in 2012 alone) and drummer Gerald Cleaver (aged 49, an established artist on the US scene). This is the first time for Stanko, to play with an all-American band, as all his previous recordings involved either Polish musicians or other European (mostly Scandinavian) musicians. This new direction, which was obviously deliberate, made s tremendous impact on the music of course.

The album is dedicated to the memory of the great Polish poetess and Nobel Prize Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, who sadly passed away shortly before this album was recorded. Stanko knew Szymborska personally and even worked with her on occasion, accompanying the readings of her poetry. Her poetry inspired much of the music present on this album, as Stanko states in the liner notes. The album's music, which consists of twelve original compositions, all by Stanko, fills two CDs, with six tracks on each CD, and the album was recorded in NY.

Stanko's aficionados will find the music pretty much familiar; brief beautiful melodic themes, which are Stanko's trademark, are usually stated at the beginning of each tune and than the quartet explores these themes via a series of lengthy improvised passages, featuring individual solos and returning back to the melody either by mid-time or just at the very end of each piece. This formula works for Stanko (and numerous other Jazz players) since many decades and one does not change horses in the middle of a race. Of course this formula works fine only if the musicians involved have a statement to make; otherwise the improvised passages tend to get somewhat less exciting.

One must admit that Stanko plays superbly on this album, definitely as good as he always did. His tone can be piercing like a spear, or delicate as a butterfly's wings, lyrical and even romantic. More importantly he plays a lot, which of course is a benevolent treat, since on some of his recordings his net input is much more modest. Several of his passionate solos on this album are some of his best ever. His melodies are also simply brilliant, as always, but the duration of the entire album tends to create a feeling of sameness, sort of a déjà vu, as if the same melodic theme was already used more that once earlier on, which is definitely a very weird feeling.

The American quartet members are all fine musicians, no question about it. But their contributions on this album are honestly extremely limited. None of them, especially the pianist, rise in the slightest to the statue of the Master, even if the potential is there. Virelles is a splendid player, as evident live and on his other recordings, and in retrospect it is a great pity his contribution here is quite pale. The rhythm section does the job, but none of their efforts are exciting for the entire duration of the album, which takes some of the joy out of the potential pleasure of listening to this album. One might speculate that if this album was recorded a year later, after this material was performed repeatedly live by the quartet, the results might have been quite different.

The big question hidden behind this album is: does Jazz have a Nationality? Stanko's music has been a symbol of European Jazz for decades. It impersonates the European individuality, elegance, sophistication, thousands of years of Cultural heritage and (for good and for bad) the European singularity. Is it that Stanko wishes to leave all that behind him and try something else, i.e. play American Jazz? Or perhaps he hopes to teach the Americans to play European Jazz? Or may be he wants to create a Euro-American Jazz amalgam? Or simply he thinks that Jazz is completely unrelated to geography? Surely only he can answer any of these questions.

Recording an album involves a series of decisions, and obviously some decisions ware made when this album was recorded. The result is simply the effect of these decisions. For anybody else recording an album of such quality would have been a momentous occasion, but sadly for Stanko this is just a very good album, or a magnificent failure, if I may say so. Nevertheless my love and admiration towards Stanko and his music remain unshaken.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Marek Napiorkowski – Up! (2013) ****

Marek Napiorkowski - guitar
Adam Pieronczyk - saxophone
Henryk Miskiewicz - bass clarinet
Krzysztof Herdzin - piano
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Clarence Penn - drums

V 002
 

By Adam Baruch

Although this is only his fourth album as a leader, Polish guitarist / composer Marek Napiorkowski is one of the most recorded artists on the local scene, being probably the most in-demand session guitarist since many years, which resulted in him taking part in over 140 different albums so far. He played and recorded with many world famous musicians and literally with everybody who is anybody on the local Polish scene; people like Tomasz Stanko and Anna Maria Jopek, to mention just two extremely different environments, which emphasize his legendary diversity and chameleonic ability to suit every musical milieu.

This is by far his most ambitious project so far, which involves eight of his original compositions arranged for a Jazz ensemble and a nine-piece chamber ensemble. The Jazz players are saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk, bass clarinet player Henryk Miskiewicz, pianist Krzysztof Herdzin, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and American drummer Clarence Penn. Herdzin was also the man in charge of the arrangements, orchestration and conducting the chamber ensemble, turning him in many respects into the most significant contributor to this album alongside Napiorkowski.

The result is a sophisticated Jazz-Classical Fusion, based on solid melodies and featuring many excellent guitar solos, which floats between energetic up-tempo moods and gentle melancholic themes. Although the individual tunes are not related per se, the overall ambience and atmosphere of the album turns it into a kind of orchestral suite for chamber orchestra and Jazz soloists. The guitar work on this album, both in the acoustic and the electric tonalities, is simply brilliant and for me the best ever achieved by Napiorkowski. Rather than trying to prove his ability as a player, which is already established anyway, Napiorkowski really concentrates on playing music, the essence that so often tends to be forgotten in favor of flashy emptiness.

Herdzin, the Polish musical Wizard of Oz, once again manages to sprinkle his magic all over this music, both as a pianist and of course as the man behind the ornamentation, which makes this music spark and sizzle. Luckily he found the way of balancing the basic Jazz contents and the chamber enhancements, keeping them both intact and coexisting alongside each other rather than mixing them into an undistinguishable mesh, which happens, unfortunately, way to often in such situations. Herdzin is probably the only person on the local scene who can pull this off.

Some listeners might have a problem to identify with this music, which often happens when an Artist changes his established path in search of new means of expression. Perhaps this will be either too Jazzy or not Jazzy enough for some? One can never satisfy everybody and it's preferable that the Art prevails rather than the attempt to be liked by everyone. This album is a statement by a mature, self-aware musician, who presents his vision, hoping that other can share it with him. I certainly hope many will do so!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Generation Next – Live At Jazz Nad Odra (2013) ***

Piotr Schmidt - trumpet
Tomasz Wendt - saxophone
Jacek Namyslowski - trombone
Gabriel Niedziela - guitar
Francesco Angiuli - bass
Arek Skolik - drums

SJ 007




By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by the Polish Jazz sextet, which as the name suggests, presents the Father-to Son continuity on the local scene; four of the sextet's members are second generation of Polish Jazz personalities. Trumpeter Piotr Schmidt is a son of Andrzej Schmidt, a renowned educator and author of Jazz history books, trombonist Jacek Namyslowski is a son of the legendary saxophonist / composer Zbigniew Namyslowski, Gabriel Niedziela is a son of the celebrated bassist / composer Jacek Niedziela and finally saxophonist Tomasz Wendt is a son of saxophonist Adam Wendt. The remaining two members of the sextet are Italian bassist Francesco Angiuli and veteran drummer Arek Skolik. The sextet performs seven original compositions, two each by Schmidt, Namyslowski and Wendt and one by Niedziela. The material was recorded live at the Jazz Nad Odra Festival and at the Polish Radio's Warsaw studio.

The idea of forming a musical ensemble based on the fact that the members have something in common, other than the music they play, is always a perilous affair. Just imagine a group of left-handed players, or red-haired players or musicians who like strawberry ice cream? This is perhaps not the case at hand, but on the other hand it is difficult to guess what the purpose of this sextet really is. The music they play is straight-forward mainstream, which is completely déjà-vu and contributes no thrill and no challenge. Yes, they are all excellent players individually, but does their presence together on this album create any special interaction, which would have not happened in different circumstances? Not really.

So here we have it, an unremarkable Jazz recording, which is listenable enough but simply fades away as soon as the music is over. Considering the fact that there are hordes of fabulous young Jazz musicians on the Polish scene, who make outstanding music, this is sadly an example of what should be avoided.

Wierba / Schmidt Quintet – The Mole People (2012) ***1/2

Michal Wierba - keyboards
Piotr Schmidt - trumpet
Michal Kapczuk - bass
Sebastian Kuchczynski - drums
Piotr Baron - saxophone

SJ 004






This is the fourth album by the Polish Jazz quintet, which was founded by two young players / composers: pianist Michal Wierba and trumpeter Piotr Schmidt. The quintet also includes bassist Michal Kapczuk and drummer Sebastian Kuchczynski. The fifth member of the quintet is a guest artist and in this case it the fabulous Polish saxophonist Piotr Baron. The quintet performs seven tunes, five of which are original compositions by Wierba, one by Schmidt and the remaining one is a Jimmy Rowles standard.

The music sits well within the comfortable boundaries of typical Jazz mainstream, moving vaguely between Bebop and Hard Bop. The original compositions are all quite solid, but overall unremarkable and lack an edge which could keep the listener focused for the duration of the music. The performances are also very good, but than again there's nothing here that every Jazz fan never heard before. Baron, who obviously represents a completely different league, sadly contributes very little, as most of the music is performed without his direct involvement. The only moment when the music becomes truly inspired is when the beautiful standard is performed solo by the pianist.

To make things perfectly clear this is not a bad album; there are plenty of interesting moments and excellent solos (Baron's solos in particular) but it is not enough to make it a remarkable album. In view of the music made by the very young Polish Jazz players, even younger than the ones on this album, constantly breathing on the neck of their slightly older colleagues, the level of competition requires everybody to try ever so harder. Life is a bitch.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Przemysław Florczak Quartet - Image Of My Personality (2013) ****

Przemyslaw Florczak - saxophone
Pawel Tomaszewski - organ
Pawel Puszczalo - bass
Sebastian Kuchczynski - drums

SJ 003





By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by a young Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Przemyslaw Florczak, recorded with his quartet which includes also organist Pawel Tomaszewski, bassist Pawel Puszczalo and drummer Sebastian Kuchczynski. The album presents seven tracks, six of which are original compositions, all by Florczak, and one is a Charles Mingus piece. Florczak is also a member of the excellent group Biotone.

The album is very impressive, especially as a debut, and presents a portrait of mature musicianship by the leader both as a performer and a composer. All the quartet members are excellent players, both as individuals and collective contributors. The decision to use the organ, rather than acoustic piano, turns this album into a completely unique experience, as this highly unusual combination opens a whole new world of sonic experience and wonderful unisono passages. The saxophone and the organ simply blend together fabulously and one wonders why they are not used together more often.

The compositions are also surprisingly excellent, well within the Jazz mainstream but incorporating many cross-genre elements, like bits of Funk, Bossa and even World-Music influences. Beautifully put together and intelligently arranged, they are a true pleasure to listen to. This music is fun (in the best meaning of the word) from start to finish, being both accessible to a wide range of listeners and sophisticated enough to draw the attention of the connoisseurs.

Florczak plays beautifully throughout, being especially impressive on the lyrical pieces, where his wonderful tone and delicate delivery is often breathtaking. Tomaszewski is also "stealing" a large part of the show with his superb organ lines, which bring on memories of times long gone. The rhythm section is simply perfect for the job, providing the vehicle for the two soloists to shine and keeping the wagon on the road.

The album has a surprisingly exquisite sound quality, which turns out to be less surprising after reading the bane of sound engineer Jan Smoczynski on the cover, who was in charge "only" of mix and mastering this time, but his signature is well recognized.

Overall this is a true gem, sadly somewhat overlooked on the crowded Polish Jazz scene, where albums are being released at an incredible rate, but definitely worth digging out and investigating. Well done indeed!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

High Definition Quartet – Hopasa (2013) ****1/2

Mateusz Sliwa - saxophone
Piotr Orzechowski - piano
Alan Wykpisz - bass
Patryk Dobosz - drums

EMARCY 602537434725





By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by High Definition Quartet, a young Polish Jazz outfit comprising of saxophonist Mateusz Sliwa, pianist Piotr Orzechowski, bassist Alan Wykpisz and drummer Patryk Dobosz. Polish Jazz connoisseurs are of course familiar with Orzechowski (a.k.a. Pianohooligan), who made a meteoric entrance on the scene as a solo performer and recorded one of the most interesting Polish Jazz albums a year earlier, which presented his interpretations of music written by Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki. Here we have the occasion to hear him finally as a part of an ensemble, which of course is quite different than performing solo. Dobosz is also somewhat familiar as a member of the phenomenal Magnolia Acoustic Quartet, which released a brilliant live album shortly before this album was released. The quartet performs six pieces (well, five actually, as the first one is just a brief intro), four of which were composed by Orzechowski and one is a Wayne Shorter composition. The album offers a sublime sound quality and ambiance, which not surprisingly is a result of it being recorded at the Studio Tokarnia and engineered by Jan Smoczynski.

Musically High Definition is a quintessence of Modern Jazz in every respect. The musicians are all masters of their trade, which is absolutely amazing considering their tender ages, who perform with virtuosic sophistication, superb intelligence and brilliant feel; and yet these strong individuals are able to collaborate seamlessly to create a whole, which is stronger than the sum of its parts. The music they play is completely contemporary and yet it plays a loving tribute to all the traditional Jazz sub-genres, with humorous hints of Swing, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz and of course Free Form, switching from one to another like a butterfly hopping from flower to flower. All that Magic is being performed completely effortless, elegantly and almost nonchalantly, which of course is a sign of true Artistry. They are able to switch tempi, keys and approach several times within a very short span of time, doing it in perfect harmony and unison, which is nothing short of stunning.

There is no doubt the Orzechowski is the most dominant personality behind this album, both as a composer and a player. This is not as much a question of solo exposure, but the overall feeling one gets listening to the music, with the piano chord obviously leading the way and stating (or emphasizing) the melodic content. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that of course, as Orzechowski is very charismatic and his musical personality is obviously very extrovert. On this album he is exposed, both as a composer and a player, showing his deep lyricism and even romanticism without any attempt to hide it behind false facades. Here it is, all in the open and in its full glory for us to enjoy.

Overall this is undoubtedly one of the strongest releases on the Polish Jazz scene this year, which is even more astounding as this has been a truly amazing year for Polish Jazz. And again, being a debut it is absolutely a miracle. Even more of a miracle is the fact, that it was released on a Major label, which usually releases less ambitious music. Perhaps even they can be converted? Heaven on earth!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski – Sweet Beat (2012) ***1/2

Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski - saxophone
Wlodzimierz Nahorny - keyboards
Bronislaw Suchanek - bass
Janusz Stefanski - drums
Jozef Gawrych - percussion

GAD 004




By Adam Baruch

A couple of years after they collaborated on the first Polish Easy Jazz album ("Jej Portret"), saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski and saxophonist / keyboardist / composer Wlodzimierz Nahorny meet again on this, another Easy Jazz recording, this time of the Jazz & Strings variety. This time however, Wroblewski is the primary soloist, fronting a wonderful quintet which includes Nahorny on keyboards, bassist Bronislaw Suchanek, drummer Janusz Stefanski and percussionist Jozef Gawrych. The quintet is accompanied by an expanded string section, conducted by Zygmunt Mahlik.

The album includes eleven original compositions, eight by Wroblewski and three by Jerzy Wasowski (a wonderful composer of cabaret songs). Wroblewski also wrote all the elaborate arrangements. Although, as intended, the orchestral arrangements are indeed Easy Jazz, the wonderful saxophone solos are anything, but easy, often being quite complex and even slightly Free Form, sometimes in complete contrast to the melodic background. However the overall atmosphere of this album is relaxed and focuses on delivering a musical experience, which can be enjoyed by a variety of listeners, including those who don't listen to Jazz on a regular basis.

Regardless of the concept behind this music, it is very apparent that neither Wroblewski nor any of his colleagues take this project lightly and the level of execution is simply perfect, as are the compositions. Wonderfully melodic, yet far from being banal, these melodies stand the test of time marvelously and sound completely relevant also today. The overall project might sound a bit dated, but that is also its charm, rising waves of nostalgia for times long gone.

This superb reissue presents exceptional remastered sound quality and fourteen bonus tracks, previously unreleased, which demonstrate other collaborations between Wroblewski and the Polish Radio string ensemble between 1967 and 1971. Wroblewski composed all of these tracks, with the exception of one standard. These recordings are a wonderful window into the "behind the scenes" of the Polish Jazz scene at the time, where experimentation and individualism might have bees suppressed by State censorship, but never stopped the protagonist from trying.

Sadly neglected and almost forgotten over the years, this album truly deserves a second life and GAD Records, as usual, made the right decision to reissue it, making a splendid job as always. I love this stuff!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jerzy Milian – Stratus Nimbus (2013) ****

Jerzy Milian - composer

GAD 009










By Adam Baruch

The Polish GAD Records label has become a treasure chest of archival recordings by Polish Jazz and Rock artists and in the short period of time since 2010, when the label released its first album, it established its position on the market as a dedicated and reliable source of interesting material. This album follows the already established pattern and is the third volume of archival material by legendary Polish Jazz vibraphonist / composer Jerzy Milian, one of the forefathers of modern Polish Jazz.

The material collected here was recorded over a period of several years in the 1980s by the Belgian (Radio & TV) BRT Jazz Orchestra, directed by Etienne Verschueren, which included many excellent players, some known also internationally. Milian worked previously with this orchestra in the late 1960 and this was his second spell with them. He wasn't the only Polish musician working with this orchestra, as saxophonist / composer Jan Ptaszyn Wroblewski also recorded an album with them in 1976 entitled "Skleroptak".

The music, all composed by Milian, includes six orchestral suites of varying length, one of which turns into an oratorio with the addition of a choir, which sings a poem by the American poet T.S. Eliot. The music is quite impressive, with a firm melodic content and elaborate orchestral arrangements, which allow for solo spots. It is less adventurous material than some of Milian's earlier compositions, but lacks nothing as far as compositional skills, flair and elegance are concerned. The orchestra performs the music spotlessly and with grace and as a result this is a wonderful Big Band / orchestral album, which reflects well on Milian's talent and vision. It is also a great example of European Big Band / orchestral sound and style, which varies considerably from its American counterparts.

In retrospect these recordings are a sad reminder of the Big Band form, which is almost extinct today in comparison to its hay days. With the impossible economics behind keeping a Big Band performing and touring and a dwindling public funding, most Big Bands, including the one present here, were eventually disbanded. Signs of a disappearing Culture. "Luckily, the recordings remain" concludes Michal Wilczynski, the owner of GAD Records, in the booklet and I concur wholeheartedly.

With remastered and restored sound and informative booklet (including text in English), this album is definitely worth checking out by any connoisseur of European Jazz, looking for another perspective.

SBB – Live Jazz Nad Odra 1975 (2013) ****

Jozef Skrzek - keyboards, bass
Apostolis Anthimos - guitar
Jerzy Piotrowski - drums

GAD 008








By Adam Baruch

This is a live recording by the legendary Polish Prog / Jazz-Rock Fusion group SBB, captured during the annual Jazz Nad Odra Festival in Wroclaw, one of Poland's most important Jazz events running uninterruptedly since its first edition in 1964. Over the years the festival exposed generation after generation of Polish Jazz players to the wide audience, as a result of the competition held every year, which presents the best musicians under the age of thirty. Winning this competition was the first major step in the careers of many of the most important Polish Jazz musicians.

This recording presents the original lineup of SBB with guitarists Apostolis Anthimos, keyboardist / bassist Jozef Skrzek and drummer Jerzy Piotrowski. They perform original material, which at the time was mostly not yet recorded in the studio and would eventually be released on their second ("Nowy Horyzont" released 1975) and third ("Pamiec" released 1976) albums. The group was at the time in a transition from their Progressive Rock phase, which started while they were still members of the Czeslaw Niemen's band, into the Jazz-Rock Fusion, which would be their home turf for many years to come. Since there are relatively very few recordings from this period, the very existence of this recording is a miracle and the fact that we can enjoy it now, almost forty years later, is a blessing.

The music comprises mostly of lengthy pieces, which were the group's trademark, that include extended improvisations and atmospheric passages, building up slowly towards a dramatic climax or even several climatic peaks, one after another. The overall impression this music created was a trans-like state of mind, which drew the listeners into a magic world of dreamy, almost psychedelic reality. Obviously such music making relied heavily on the virtuosic abilities of all the three members of the group. Skrzek, as the primary composer, sets the melodic framework and the moods; Anthimos creates the dramatic guitar arpeggios and musical peaks and Piotrowski brilliantly keeps it all moving forward and invigorates the music with his pulsations.

For many SBB followers, and Polish music lovers this period of the group's activity is, in retrospective, their most inspired, fascinating and mind-boggling. This music epitomizes the process of constant search for the undiscovered, the manic restlessness and the audacity to step into the unknown, which characterizes it. There is no doubt that this is one of the artistic peaks of Eastern European music, brewed behind the Iron Curtain. And honestly, as far as Prog and Jazz-Rock Fusion are concerned, very few of the things that happened since can stand up to this level.

The sound quality of this material is a bit muffled and with a limited sonic range and clarity, but considering the fact it was recorded live and never intended for release, it is certainly more than adequate. Of course both musically and historically it is absolutely superb and should not be missed by anybody who cares about SBB or Eastern European music from the 1970s. Grab it and enjoy!
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