ELMA - vocals
Verneri Pohjola - trumpet
Dominik Wania - piano
Maciej Garbowski - double bass
Hic Et Nunc
By Adam Baruch
This is the debut album by female Polish Jazz vocalist, who hides behind the pseudonym ELMA, recorded with Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola (son of the Finnish Jazz legend Pekka Pohjola) and two great polish musicians: pianist Dominik Wania and bassist Maciej Garbowski. The album presents eleven original compositions, seven of which are by ELMA, three by Garbowski and the remaining one by Pohjola. The album was recorded at the legendary Studio Tokarnia, with Jan Smoczynski presiding, and with spectacular, as usual, sonic results.
To put things straight, vocals in this case mean vocalese, i.e. wordless vocal phrases, which basically represent the human voice as just another instrument, placing it on the same level as the rest of the musicians involved. Stylistically the music is much more organized and melodic than one might expect by reading the liner notes, which basically suggest a lot of spontaneous improvisation, which is definitely present here but does not dominate the proceedings. On the contrary the majority of the music consists of clearly defined musical themes, which must have been rehearsed before the actual recording. Of course there is nothing wrong with such approach of course. Musical birds tell me that large part of the recorded music stays unreleased, so perhaps this album includes the more melodic content and the forthcoming one will present the spontaneously improvised pieces?
ELMA seems to be more involved in vocalese than any other female Polish Jazz vocalist at the moment, most of which use vocalese sparingly and prefer singing lyrics. Personally I always preferred the instrumental approach to human voice and therefore this album is a breath of fresh air in that department. ELMA uses a wide variety of vocal paraphernalia, moving between scat, modulation, syllables or simply singing notes. The actual tone of her voice is perhaps an acquired taste, but the overall result is very unique and enjoyable.
The instrumentalists are all quite spectacular, which in their case is not surprising. Wania arises as one of the absolute best Polish Jazz pianists and everything he touches simply turns into the proverbial gold. Garbowski, who is one of my personal favorites since quite a while, also delivers some incredible bass lines, which keep this music afloat, especially in a drumless environment. Pohjola plays some tasty trumpet solos, but his input is a bit too predictable for me personally, although many listeners addicted to the Nordic Jazz sound will surely love it.
This is definitely one of the most interesting debuts (so far) in 2014 and deserves a lot of love and attention, simply to show daring musicians that conventions mean very little as far as good Art is concerned. Of course similar attitude towards vocals was already displayed several decades ago, including those of Urszula Dudziak in Poland, but hearing someone trying to revive such experimentation is truly refreshing. I'd love to hear more from ELMA and this quartet, hopefully in a not too distant future. Well done indeed!