Friday, January 16, 2015

Michal Tokaj Trio – The Sign (2014)

Michał Tokaj Trio

Michał Tokaj - piano
Michał Barański - double bass
Łukasz Żyta - drums

The Sign


By Adam Baruch

This is the second album as a leader by Polish Jazz pianist/composer Michał Tokaj, one of the most well-regarded and respected musicians on the local scene, known primarily as accompanist, arranger and composer working with top Polish Jazz vocalists like Aga Zaryan, Szymon Makohin, Grzegorz Karnas and others, but also as member of distinguished instrumental ensembles led by Piotr Baron, Marek Napiórkowski, Janusz Muniak, Czech bassist Jaromir Honzak and others. The album was recorded in the classic piano trio format, with bassist Michał Barański and drummer Łukasz Żyta, the same lineup that recorded Tokaj's debut album "Bird Alone" a decade earlier. The music comprises of ten original compositions, nine of which were composed by Tokaj and the album's closing track, which was composed by the great Polish bassist/composer Darek Oleszkiewicz.

The music is brilliantly performed by the trio, which displays not only superb instrumental abilities but more importantly remarkable affinity and interplay, which is hardly surprising considering the fact that they have been playing together for so many years. Tokaj's piano playing here is somewhat different, as might be naturally expected, from his delicate accompaniments when playing along vocalists or other leading instrumentalists. It is much more assertive and focused, definitely more complex and adventurous, and yet still incredibly melodic, even during the condensed and expressive improvisational passages. Of course both Barański and Żyta deserve all the compliments for their intelligent and sympathetic, as well as technically exquisite support.

The music is a true delight from start to finish, a wonderful mixture of melody, lyricism and even romanticism combined with quite complex ventures into intensive improvisation and above all a lot of freedom and breathing space, which make this music crystal clear even during its most demanding moments. It's pretty obvious that Tokaj's gift as a composer and his incredible versatility earn his a well deserved position close to the top of the list of Polish Jazz composers.

For me this is easily the best "piano trio playing original music" album recorded in 2014, which is quite a distinction considering how much great music is produced on the Polish scene every year. As usual in such circumstances both a wholehearted recommendation to the fans to grab this gem ASAP and a humble expressions of gratitude towards the musicians are in order. Very well done indeed Gentlemen!

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