Irek Wojtczak - tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Michael Stevens - piano
Herb Robertson - trumpet
Joe Fonda - double bass
Harvey Sorgen - drums, percussion
FOR TUNE 0050
By Adam Baruch
This is a superb and highly original album by Polish Jazz saxophonist composer Irek Wojtczak, one of my favorite heroes of the Polish scene, recorded with an American quartet, which comprises of pianist Michael Stevens, trumpeter Herb Robertson, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen. The album presents an adventurous Jazz-World Music Fusion project, based on eight folk tunes originating from the region of Wojtczak's birthplace, arranged and transformed by him into the Jazz idiom.
People familiar with the history of Polish Jazz are of course aware of a long tradition of amalgamating Polish Folklore with Jazz, which goes back to the early days of post-WWII modern Polish Jazz. The most notable and successful examples of such Fusion can be found in the recordings of Zbigniew Namyslowski, but the phenomenon was quite omnipresent, mostly in the 1960s and into 1970s. It is a much lesser known fact that the Socialist Regime, which ruled the country at the time, did not know how to deal with the explosion of Jazz popularity, especially in view of the fact that Jazz was highly criticized by the watchful Soviet overseers. The solution to this conundrum was to present Jazz as a form of folklore, originating from the African-American "oppressed society" and domesticated in Socialist Poland by incorporating Polish Folklore. This ingenious and of course bizarrely ridiculous, and yet highly effective deceit kept Polish Jazz alive and eventually highly successful during the times of strict political censorship of all artistic activities, and in retrospect is largely responsible for the remarkable continuous development of the genre in Poland, which did not happen on the same scale in other countries behind the Iron Curtain.
Of course this album presents a true amalgam of Jazz and Folklore, which results not form a compulsory mandate, but from deep soul searching and a conscious decision taken by Wojtczak to reexamine the roots of his cultural heritage, which he absorbed during his childhood but suppressed for many years while developing his Jazz skills and vocabulary. Such retrospective journeys are never easy and the fact that he managed to emerge triumphant from this one is truly marvelous.
But the greatest surprise of this album is the ability of the American quartet to assimilate those Polish Folklore idiosyncrasies, such as odd meters and bizarre chord changes, and incorporate them into their Jazz legacy as if this was the most natural thing in the world, where in fact it is anything but natural or expected. Most American Jazz musicians hardly ever consider anything happening outside of the US as valuable in the Jazz context, with blind conservatism and acute bigotry being often at the helm. Their brotherly embrace of a Polish Jazz musician and his bizarre music, which results in creating a common statement, is absolutely heartwarming.
The music on this album is not only a superb example of cross genre integration, but most importantly an exquisite piece of modern Jazz, which encompasses its many sub-genres, from melodic Bebop, via Free Jazz and into Improvised Music stretches. Marvelously performed and showing an incredible sensitivity, elegance and grace, this is contemporary Jazz of the highest caliber. But individual statements and virtuosity of the participants would mean nothing if not supported by the intense level of interplay and telepathic conversation, which this music is completely soaked in. Mutual respect, support, understanding and most importantly pure love of music turn this music into one of the most passionate and poignant musical statements I had the pleasure to enjoy lately.
I always believed that Wojtczak will become at some point one of the most important Polish Jazz Masters. On the liner notes of his previous album, which I was honored to write, I stated the following: "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." With this album under his arm Wojtczak certainly achieved already more than many of his contemporaries, and he as after all just starting…
Kudos are due to the For Tune label and the people behind it for supporting and releasing this amazing piece of Art, which is one of the crown jewels in their entire catalog. My deepest respects!