Monday, November 19, 2018

Irek Wojtczak Quintet – Play It Again (2018)

Irek Wojtczak Quintet

Irek Wojtczak - saxophone
Tomasz Dąbrowski - trumpet
Piotr Mania - piano
Adam Żuchowski - bass
Kuba Staruszkiewicz - drums

Play It Again

FSR 2018/06
By Adam Baruch



This is a live recording by a quintet led by Polish Jazz saxophonist / composer Irek Wojtczak, which also includes trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski, pianist Piotr Mania, bassist Adam Zuchowski and drummer Kuba Staruszkiewicz. The quintet plays music that was recorded by the "American" quintet led by Wojtczak, which recorded the splendid "Folk Five" album for the For Tune label slightly over a year before this music was recorded. As the title suggests, this recording is another attempt to play almost the same music that was recorded for the "Folk Five" album, but this time by an all-Polish quintet. The album presents eight tunes, all originating in Polish Folklore and arranged by Wojtczak, six of which were already recorded on "Folk Five" and two are new tunes used here for the first time.

The musical concept is of course quite clear: Jazz-World Fusion which transfers some of the treasures of Polish Folklore into the Jazz idiom, an idea that is quite common in Polish Jazz since its Genesis. As usual, some efforts dealing with this concept worked out better than others, but overall the seven or so decades of Polish Jazz produced a sizable and highly original amount of superb music created under this moniker. The aforementioned "Folk Five" album was definitely one of the highlights of that idiom and the attempt to try and repeat the magic that happened on that album was a bold and audacious undertaking. I am happy to say that Wojtczak and his cohorts not only managed to recreate the magic, but also managed to take the music to a higher plane.

There is of course no doubt as to the quality of the music or the level of the execution, they are both simply extraordinary. Therefore the comparison between the two versions of the music must touch upon the fundamental differences between American and European Jazz, of which these two albums are a textbook example or even a paradigm. One might of course say that such comparison is a priori unfair, as the Polish Jazz musicians are way more familiar and culturally accustomed to the Polish Folklore element of the music than their American counterparts. But such argument is simply irrelevant, as these two albums clearly show. These albums are different not because the lack of familiarity with Polish Folklore by the American musicians, but by the intrinsic attitude towards improvisation and even more broadly towards music making, between the American and the European Jazz musicians.

As a result of these fundamental differences "Folk Five" remains an excellent, very well played album, whereas "Play It Again" shows where the same music can get to, when played without the restrictions the American Jazz tradition imposes even on the best musicians. The flair, elegance, imagination, feeling and openness present on this album takes it to a completely new level of awareness and creativity.

But comparisons aside, this is above all a masterpiece of modern Polish / European Jazz, which takes the Jazz-World Fusion idiom light years ahead in comparison to its rather humble beginnings, clearly showing that Polish Jazz is a stronghold of originality, imagination and musical ingenuity. This is an absolute must to every Polish Jazz fan and a supreme gem of an album for all seasons. Hats off!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Piotr Wojtasik – To Whom It May Concern (2018)

Piotr Wojtasik

Piotr Wojtasik - trumpet
Viktor Tóth - alto saxophone, flute
Sylwester Ostrowski - tenor saxophone
Bobby Few - piano
Joris Teepe - double bass
John Betsch - drums




To Whom It May Concern

INDYGO 002

By Adam Baruch

This is an album by the veteran Polish Jazz trumpeter / composer / bandleader / educator Piotr Wojtasik, recorded by an international sextet, which features alongside Wojtasik also Hungarian saxophonist/flautist Viktor Toth, Polish saxophonist Sylwester Ostrowski, Dutch bassist Joris Teepe and American (resident in Europe) pianist Bobby Few and drummer John Betsch. The album, which was recorded in France, presents eight original compositions, all by Wojtasik.

The music explores the roots of Jazz and stretches between Blues influenced early Jazz through familiar Bebop mainstream and towards more open/Free oriented music, but stays within well defined boundaries. The compositions are diverse and interesting, clearly showing Wojtasik as a mature and focused composer, who is able to weave nice melodic themes and expand them into a fully structured ensemble pieces.

Both Wojtasik and Ostrowski consistently drift towards American Jazz and obviously prefer to play and record with American musicians, but they do it on an equal footing with the Americans, completely devoid of the inferiority complex that characterized whole generations of Polish Jazz musicians for decades. The music on this album clearly shows that they are able to stand shoulder to shoulder with their cohorts.

The album is full of strong personal statements by all the participants, as appropriate for such endeavor, with the leader exploring his extensive arsenal of trumpet magic, moving with ease between raw and fully powered statements and delicate balladry. His unique and very personal style remains as one of the most distinctive voices of Polish Jazz trumpet, equaled by but a very few.

Few is also a charmer with his highly idiosyncratic piano vistas, which can be heard all along the album's duration and come to a climax in the short solo piano piece showcasing his abilities and dedicated to him by the leader/composer. The excellent rhythm section is a bastion of strength and stability which keeps the music in check and moving along the desired chronometry, completely at ease with whatever is required at each given moment. Joris gets also a solo spot in another short piece dedicated to him. An artistry of time and pulse…

Overall this is an excellent album by any standard and although it offers contemporary Jazz of the American flavor, rather than European Jazz which one expects to hear from European Jazz musicians, it is perfectly executed, interesting and inspiring, full of great ideas and obviously highly engaging. Wojtasik deserves admiration and praise for consistency, which characterizes his entire career, and most importantly for doing his thing regardless of trends and fads of fashion. Keep swinging Maestro!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Skerebotte Fatta - Riders From The Ra (2018)

Skerebotte Fatta

Jan Małkowski - saxophones
Dominik Mokrzewski - drums

Riders From The Ra

CREATIVE SOURCES 545





By Andrzej Nowak

Pod intrygująca nazwą Skerebotte Fatta kryje się duet młodych polskich improwizatorów – saksofonista Jan Małkowski i perkusista Dominik Mokrzewski. Obydwu tych dżentelmenów powinniśmy kojarzyć z Warsaw Improvisers Orchestra, a także z jej równie udaną "small version", czy kwintetem Infant Joy. 

Na krążku dumnie nazwanym "Riders From The Ra" (cała historia rocka i jazzu leży u ich stóp), z pełną odwagą rzucają się na klasyczny idiom free jazzu, czyli "sax & drums", i wychodzą z tej nierównej walki prawdziwie zwycięzcy. Przyznaję bez cienia wątpliwości, iż tak dobrej, klasycznie free jazzowej płyty nie słyszałem w wykonaniu polskich muzyków od lat. Do tego wszystkiego wydawcą jest portugalski Creative Sources, co niezależnie od wszelkich uwarunkowań ekonomicznych tego faktu, jest dla młodych improwizatorów dalece nobilitujące. Zajrzyjmy zatem do środka i sprawdźmy, co też dzieje się w trakcie ośmiu utworów zawartych na płycie (muzycy, nieco przekornie, nazwali swe dzieło „all compositions”).

Startujemy w towarzystwie masywnego, krzykliwego saksofonu (tenorowego?) i mocnego, opartego na agresywnym pulsie stopy, zestawu perkusyjnego (niczym Tom Bruno). "Hey bebop!", czyli przykład free jazzu, jakiego nie gra się zbyt często na Wisłą i Odrą. W kolejnej, już nieco bardziej rozbudowanej kompozycji, napotykamy na dynamiczny, progresywny "drumming", wokół którego tańczy i swawoli saksofon (sopranowy?). Rytm, ekspresja i precyzja. A wszystko podane z niemal punkrockową bezkompromisowością i ładnie wykończone po wybrzmieniu. Trzeci odcinek startuje niemal z poziomu ciszy i płynie niczym delikatnie rozwichrzona ballada free, z której niebanalnie wyłania się zwinny, "aylerowski" hymn. Czwarty, wzorem prologu, to kolejna petarda – prawdziwy "psycho attack"! Saksofon w estetyce "harsh" i doom-metalowa perkusja! Piąty utwór koi emocje, nerwy i pot na czole - stylowy, wyrazisty, "mały" saksofon na tle talerzy. 

Wreszcie tytułowa, niemal 18 minutowa, epicka free jazz drama. Muzycy zaczynają w pozycjach sonorystycznych – aktywny "drumming", zadumany "dęciak". Nie tylko żywioł free – jest struktura, dramaturgia, nieśpieszna, precyzyjna narracja. Mokrzewski znów czuwa nad całością, niczym Tom Bruno nad szaleństwami Sabira Mateena i Daniela Cartera w kwartecie Test. Obok piękna ekspozycja Małkowskiego, konsekwentna i spójna. Klasyka free jazzu potrzebuje takich nagrań, zwłaszcza 50 lat po śmierci Coltrane’a. W środkowej części utworu zwinne i przebiegłe solo perkusyjne. Po nim sopran Jana szybuje w poszukiwaniu klasycznej melodyki jego wielkiego poprzednika. Melodyka, rytm, dramaturgiczna pieczołowitość. A na finał eksplozja w samym środku tuby saksofonu. 

Na ostatniej prostej dwie zgrabne, nieprzegadane numery. Najpierw spokojna "meta" ballada, niestroniąca od sonorystyki, grana swobodnie, na dużym luzie, z której błyskotliwie wyłania się pełna ekspresji narracja. Zaś sam finał płyt jest ostry, drapieżny i dynamiczny. Czyniona przy świetnej komunikacji wzajemnej, intensywna wycieczka po "złote runo". Brawo!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Vladyslav Sendecki/Atom String Quartet – Le Jardin Oublié/My Polish Heart (2018)

Vladyslav Sendecki/Atom String Quartet

Vladyslav Sendecki - piano
Dawid Lubowicz - violin
Mateusz Smoczyński - violin
Michał Zaborski - viola
Krzysztof Lenczowski - cello

Le Jardin Oublié/My Polish Heart


NEUKLANG 4198

By Adam Baruch

This is an album by the Polish (resident in Germany) pianist/composer Vladyslav Sendecki, who is accompanied by the highly esteemed Polish Atom String Quartet (violinists Mateusz Smoczyński and Dawid Lubowicz, violist Michał Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski). The album presents ten compositions, five of which are original composition by Sendecki, two were composed by his brother Stefan Sendecki, one was composed by Krzysztof Komeda, another one by Polish Classical composer Karol Szymanowski and finally one was composed by the German composer Wolf Kerschek. Three of the compositions were arranged by the great British composer/arranger Michael Gibbs.

The music focuses on relatively little known facet of Sendecki's activity and is mostly dedicated to contemporary Classical music, with relatively limited Jazz references. The piano/string quartet setting suits this musical direction ideally of course and the chamber atmosphere prevails throughout. The piano concerto "My Polish Heart" was composed especially by Kerschek for Sendecki and was performed by him with the NDR Big Band, of which he is the resident pianist. The intimate version of this wonderful piece present here includes only part of the entire composition, but reflects the spirit of the work perfectly. All the pieces on the album are full of the characteristic Polish melancholy and lyricism, which can be found in all Polish music regardless of the genre: Classical, Jazz, Rock or Folklore.

The most Jazz oriented piece on the album is of course the "Komeda Hommage", which is a medley of two Komeda's compositions, brilliantly combining the Jazz and Classical idioms thanks to the unique arrangement by Sendecki and the Atoms and taking a form of a beautiful suite.

This album requires very serious listening with attention to details and patience, as it offers a wealth of musical thrills in every aspect. The compositions, arrangements and performances are all loaded with deeply emotional content and are full of virtuosic performances, which are very difficult to be absorbed all at once. Each listening experience promises new discoveries of course. Overall this is a wonderful album full of great music, which offers a Jazz-Classical Fusion of the highest caliber. Lovers of Polish music, regardless of style and fashion, should be delighted by what this album has to offer.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tomasz Chyła Quintet – Circlesongs (2018)

Tomasz Chyla Quintet

Tomasz Chyła - violin
Piotr Chęcki - tenor saxophone
Szymon Burnos - piano
Krzysztof Słomkowski - double bass
Sławomir Koryzno - drums

Circlesongs



POLSKIE RADIO 2208

By Adam Baruch

This is the second album by young Polish Jazz violinist/composer Tomasz Chyła, recorded with his quintet which also includes saxophonist Piotr Chęcki, pianist Szymon Burnos (also in charge of the electronic effects), bassist Krzysztof Słomkowski and drummer Sławomir Koryzno. The album presents fifteen relatively short original compositions, all of which were collectively composed by the quintet members, grouped into three "circlesongs".

In complete contrast to the debut album, the music on this album is a cosmic jump into Avant-garde, Free Jazz and Improvised Music, which comes as an overwhelming and complete surprise. One can expect development and progression, sometimes gradual and in other cases quite rapid, but taking such a dramatic and drastic step, like in this case, is almost unheard off.

As a result the music almost completely shuns any effort to be described. "Making love via telephone" comes to mind in this case, as words are simply inadequate to express the essence of this music, surely not adequately. So what can be said? There is almost no melody, at most short bursts of a few consecutive notes, no steady rhythm, but rather drone like passages, little dynamics and no soloing in the traditional sense. At times the music sounds like contemporary minimalist music, at others like Free Jazz group improvisation, and yet at others like Avant-garde soundscapes of cinematic or theatre music.

But enough of trying to describe the music; which is an a priori futile attempt anyway. The most important thing is that this innovative and courageous approach works out amazingly well and the music is simply astounding. It manages to drown in the listener completely and entangle his attention like a spider's web. The continuity and constant development creates a natural flow, which when succumbed to, takes the listener on a phantasmagorical journey into the unknown. Listening to the music for the first time is a shocking experience but consecutive listening sessions have the power of addiction.

It makes no sense to write about the individual contributions by the quintet members, as this album is a classic team effort. My praise goes to the leader, who keeps his playing on the same level, and perhaps even more modest, that his cohorts, which in this case is the most sensible decision. These players have already proved their chops on numerous other recordings, and this music is all about unison.

It is not often that a new genre/idiom/form is created in music, especially so in Jazz (in its broad meaning), but this album definitely is an eye (ears) opener in many aspects. Many of the elements used here have been tried out earlier on, but placing them together in this specific climate, order and context is completely innovative, even for the Polish Jazz scene, which bursts with innovation. One can not predict the future of course, but this album is definitely a Giant Step as far as Polish/European Jazz are concerned and only future will tell of its influence on the genre. It epitomizes everything that European Jazz stands for: innovation, inventiveness, boldness, open-mindedness, elegance and beyond all musical aesthetics, which exists only in Europe.

To put things boldly: this is a fucking great album (excuse my French) and you better believe it! As far as I am concerned, this album is already the winner of the best Polish Jazz album for 2018 and it will take a miracle to change my mind. I am not so sure if the usual bunch of Polish Jazz "critics" will be able to swallow this music so easily, but who gives a damn. Hopefully they will, as usual, follow my lead, even when they hate the music.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Weston/Majchrzak/Gembalski – Magic Hands (2014)

Weston/Majchrzak/Gembalski

Henryk Gembalski - violin
Krzysztof Majchrzak - guitar, bass
Calvin Weston - drums

Magic Hands

PRIVATE EDITION




By Adam Baruch

This is a live recording by a trio comprising of American drummer/multi-instrumentalist Calvin Weston and two Polish musicians: bassist/guitarist Krzysztof Majchrzak and violinist Henryk Gembalski. The album presents eight original pieces, all spontaneously improvised by the trio and co-credited to them.

The music is an amalgam of influences but basically comes down to Avant-garde Jazz-Rock Fusion, which although improvised has a clear melodic backbone, which serves as the underlying element for the extended improvisations. The unusual instrumental lineup creates a very effective ambience and the use of violin brings fond memories of early Fusion ensembles that featured the violin, like Flock, Hands and others.

Gembalski, one of the most underappreciated Polish Jazz figures, clearly proves that he is as good as any of his contemporaries, but his association with the Polish Avant-garde prevented his recognition in the mainstream Jazz circles, which is a great pity. Majchrzak drives the trio with his full bodied bass lines, which provide the continuity needed to avoid total mayhem. He is a perfect link between the stratospheric violin parts and the down to earth rhythmic layer provided by the drums.

Weston, a veteran improviser who played with some of the most important American Jazz innovators, turns out to be a gifted trumpeter as well, and his tribal drumming is exactly what this music needs. Overall this is a very interesting musical adventure, different stylistically and aesthetically from the usual Fusion outings, full of excellent solo parts and superb cooperation between the participating musicians, especially in view of the fact that the music was improvised live. For connoisseurs of the violin in Jazz / Fusion, this is a revelation.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mateusz Sobiechowski Quintet – Vital Music (2018)

Mateusz Sobiechowski Quintet

Mateusz Sobiechowski - piano
Marcin Kaletka - tenor saxophone
Szymon Mika - guitar
Adam Tadel - double bass
Grzegorz Pałka - drums

Vital Music




CHALLENGE 73451

By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album by young Polish Jazz quintet led by pianist/composer Mateusz Sobiechowski with saxophonist Marcin Kaletka, guitarist Szymon Mika, bassist Adam Tadel and drummer Grzegorz Pałka, all representatives of the excellent young Polish Jazz generation. The album presents nine pieces, eight of which are original compositions by Sobiechowski and one is a standard. The album was released by the prestigious Dutch label Challenge Records, which recently entered the Polish Jazz realm. The recording was engineered my Maciej Stach and offers a superb sound quality.

The music is typical contemporary Polish/European mainstream Jazz, based on excellent compositions and performed with elegance and passion. Most of the themes are low key, full of characteristic Polish melancholy, which seems to be omnipresent on the majority of Polish Jazz recordings. The compositions are excellently structured, diverse and interesting enough to produce a fascinating continuity which keeps the listener on his toes.

The performances are also top notch, obviously highly professional, but more importantly heartfelt, artistically inclined and highly aesthetic. All three front line players offer excellent soloing and the rhythm section does a perfect job all the way through, being supportive but not obtrusive. Personally I find the contributions by Mika to be slightly more focused and inspired than those of his peers, but that said, and as already stated, everybody plays splendidly. Sobiechowski solos relatively sparingly for a leader, which is much respected, as it contributes to the overall quintet's team spirit and creates a coherent ensemble statement.

Overall this is a very impressive debut, which offers both superb compositions and elegant execution, which would not shame veteran Jazz musicians anywhere on this planet. It is another manifestation of the strength of the Polish Jazz scene and its continuous development, which is now being recognized beyond the country's borders. Warmly recommended to Jazz connoisseurs the world over!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Ola Mońko - Wherever You Are (2018)

Ola Mońko

Ola Mońko - piano
Jerzy Małek - trumpet
Maciej Sikała - tenor saxophone
Michał Barański - bass
Eric Allen - drums

Wherever You Are

SOLITON 846


By Krzysztof Komorek

Podwórko w bocznej uliczce. Niepozorne drzwi, które prowadzą do niewielkiego hallu i schodów w dół. Zejście do piwnicy z ceglanym sklepieniem. Niewielka przestrzeń. Bar. Stoliki. Sala na 100 osób. Scena z występującym na niej zespołem. Jazz. "Rozbrzmiewające w powietrzu dźwięki same układają się w melodię, tak jak dym z papierosa w niebieskie smugi" [Antonio Munoz Molina, "Zima w Lizbonie" w przekładzie Wojciecha Charchalisa, Wyd. Rebis, Poznań 2016]. Takie oto wrażenia oferuje wydana niedawno płyta Aleksandry Mońko-Allen. 

Pianistka i kompozytorka zdobyła wykształcenie w katowickiej Akademii Muzycznej im. Karola Szymanowskiego. Naukę kontynuowała w nowojorskim City College Of New York oraz University Of The District Of Columbia. Przez ponad dekadę pracowała i mieszkała w Stanach Zjednoczonych. Wśród swoich muzycznych mistrzów wymienia między innymi Krzysztof Komedę, McCoya Tynera, Horace’a Silvera i Arta Blakeya. Jest dwukrotną laureatką Międzynarodowego Konkursie Kompozytorskiego im. Krzysztofa Komedy w Słupsku. Oba wyróżnione utwory: "I Will Not Fall In Love With You" i "Ocean", można usłyszeć na opisywanej tu płycie. 

Album zawiera dziewięć nagrań: osiem kompozycji pianistki oraz standard "Almost Like Being In Love". Wystarczy lekko przymknąć oczy i uruchomić wyobraźnię, by podczas słuchania przenieść się w przywołaną na początku atmosferę jazzowego klubu. Muzyka wybrzmiewająca na "Wherever You Are" to bowiem jazz w najczystszej postaci. Muszę przyznać, że kompozytorskie nagrody Aleksandry Mońko zdają się być w pełni zasłużone. Oryginalne utwory świetnie wpasowują się w stylistykę Wielkiego Śpiewnika Amerykańskiego, a bez zerknięcia w metryczkę płyty można by sądzić, że zespół gra tu zbiór klasyków. Ów dym z papierosa z cytatu rozpływa się tu dość szybko, bowiem na albumie dominują kompozycje dynamiczniejsze. 

Oczywiście nie zabrakło także typowych jazzowych ballad, a kończący album utwór tytułowy to wyróżniający się fragment całości, pięknie podsumowujący godzinne spotkanie z kwintetem. Każde z nagrań trwa wystarczająco długo, by dać solistom – przede wszystkim liderce i instrumentom dętym – dość czasu na indywidualne popisy. Pianistce towarzyszą znakomici muzycy. Maciej Sikała na tenorze, Jerzy Małek na trąbce oraz sekcja rytmiczna Michał Barański/Eric Allen. Instrumentaliści doświadczeni, z obyciem studyjnym i koncertowym, przydający zagranym utworom niewymuszonego luzu. Prawdziwa radość ze słuchania.

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