Wednesday, January 15, 2014

String Big Band – String Big Band (2013) ****1/2

Krzysztof Herdzin - arrangements
Mateusz Smoczynski - violin
Dawid Lubowicz -- violin
Michal Zaborski - viola
Krzysztof Lenczowski - cello
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Agnieszka Wilczynska - vocals


By Adam Baruch

It takes a true musical "nut" (of the nicest sort), like The Polish pianist / composer / arranger / conductor Krzysztof Herdzin to come up with a project like this, which is designed to establish a new musical "genre" (or sub-genre) of chamber string music he defines as "string big band", a marriage between the European tradition of the string orchestra and the American Jazz Big Band. In order to prove his point, Herdzin took ten "classic" Jazz standards, some of which are closely associated with Big Band performances, others that aren't, and arranged them for a musical collective, which brings together the sensational Atom String Quartet (violinists Mateusz Smoczynski and Dawid Lubowicz, violist Michal Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski) with Sinfonia Viva orchestra to create a large string ensemble equivalent to the size of a Big Band. Bassist Robert Kubiszyn and vocalist Agnieszka Wilczynska (she sings on a couple of tracks only) also take part and the entire ensemble, conducted by Herdzin, which is appropriately named String Big Band.

I must admit that before I listened to the music, just by looking at the CD and reading the texts, I was absolutely sure I'm going to hate this thing with vengeance. Boy was I wrong! It turned out to be one of the most uplifting pieces of musical delight I have heard in a long time. Herdzin somehow managed the impossible: he turned a potentially kitschy and schmaltzy musical idiom into absolute magic. I felt transformed back in time, about ninety years or so back in time, watching a Broadway stage performance at the peak of the Great Gatsby's "Jazz Age", with tall women in tight lush dresses, glasses of champagne and all that Jazz! Pure Magic!

Of course a big part of the success goes also to the wonderful performers; Atom String Quartet emerges as one of the most intriguing discoveries on the Polish scene in the last decade and the Sinfonia Viva orchestra, which Herdzin utilizes repeatedly as part of his projects, is definitely a group of most talented and worthy of admiration musicians. But Maestro Herdzin is definitely the main honcho, the inspirer and the chief (or perhaps chef) of this whole crazy happening. It takes a lot of courage and self confidence to undertake such a perilous venture and to emerge triumphant and victorious is simply phenomenal.

This music can be enjoyed by almost anybody who has a working pair of ears on him, and it so multilayered and elegant that the more experienced and sophisticated the listener, the more pleasurable the experience becomes. Kudos Krzysztof, you really hit the jackpot this time!

The live recording at the Polish Radio studio #3 in Warsaw has an unusually excellent, clear and vibrant sound quality, which enhances the whole album tremendously. The stars were definitely smiling at that project!

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