Thursday, December 13, 2018

Anna Maria Jopek & Branford Marsalis – Ulotne (2018)

Anna Maria Jopek & Branford Marsalis

Anna Maria Jopek - vocals
Branford Marsalis - saxophone
Krzysztof Herdzin - piano
Marcin Wasilewski - piano
Robert Kubiszyn - bass
Piotr Nazaruk - flute, clarinet, etc.
Mino Cinelu - percussion
Atom String Quartet


Ulotne

AMJ 001

By Adam Baruch

Every new release by the Polish Diva Anna Maria Jopek is a celebration of Culture and a major musical event on an international scale, especially so when it involves a revered Jazz superstar like saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Jopek, famous for her consistent independent Artistic vision, managed to create her own universe, where she does not need to compare or compete with the rest of the world, which enables her complete freedom of expression and self-determination, which only very few Artists worldwide were able to achieve over time.

Recording an album with Marsalis was a dream, which Jopek held on to since the time she heard him playing with Sting, which of course was a huge influence on every true music lover at the time. The incredible chemistry that Sting and Marsalis demonstrated was an extremely tall order to follow, but Jopek never eschewed a challenge and this album proves that the realization of that dream was indeed worthwhile waiting for.

The album was recorded during two separate recording sessions, twenty one months apart, which considering the busy schedule that Jopek and Marsalis are both entangled in, is not as surprising as it might sound. The somewhat esoteric group of musicians includes percussionist Mino Cinelu, pianists Krzysztof Herdzin (who was also in charge of arrangements and conducting) and Marcin Wasilewski, multi-instrumentalist Piotr Nazaruk, bassist Robert Kubiszyn and Atom String Quartet (violinists Mateusz Smoczyński and Dawid Lubowicz, violist Michał Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski). Polish Folklore Guru Maria Pomianowska guests on one track. The album presents ten tracks on the "formal" first CD and four additional tracks (one of which is an alternate version of a track on the album) on the "bonus" second CD. The songs are mostly originals, written by Jopek or co-written with her spouse Marcin Kydryński, one song is by Herdzin, one by Tomasz Stańko (see below), one by Andrzej Zieliński (Skaldowie) and one by Harry Kandel with the rest being originally traditional Polish Folklore songs.

Musically the album marks a return to Jopek's established modus operandi, which combines Polish Folklore and original songwriting, spiced with Jazzy arrangements and of course dominated by her highly original expressionism. The music is deeply soaked in Polish lyricism and melancholy and her decision to sing in the Polish language emphasizes these elements even further. Marsalis plunges into this Slavic environment with vigor and determination, as if Eastern European sensitivities were his second nature, which is quite remarkable. It proves not only his openness and ability to embrace diverse Cultures, but also his incredible musicality, which enables him to feel completely at home in this Slavic musical setting. It also proves, perhaps more importantly, that music is universal, as is human soul, and ethnic boundaries can be crossed and amalgamated on the collective plane.

Jopek, Marsalis and all the musicians involved in the recording of this album are of course veteran professionals in addition to their individual Artistic abilities, which results in the music being perfectly and incredibly sensitively executed. This music requires total dedication and every single note played by every musician at every given moment must be precisely articulated to achieve the desired effect. Luckily this team rises to the challenge admirably. The delicate and wonderfully written string arrangements performed by the Atoms add a superbly "angelic" aura to the overall sound and the folkloristic elements by Nazaruk spice the proceedings splendidly. Marsalis plays a series of breathtaking solos throughout the album, exactly as expected of course and Jopek, as always, manages to create goose bumps all over the listener's body regardless if she sings lyrics or awe-inspiring vocalese.

When selecting the material for this album, Jopek requested the permission of Tomasz Stańko to use his beautiful ballad "A Farewell To Maria", originally used in the soundtrack of a movie of the same name, as she was sure Marsalis would be able to embrace the lyricism of this incredible melody and create a marvelous solo while performing it. She was right of course and this track is definitely one of the highlights of this album, and at the same time it constitutes a mournful tribute to Stańko, who passed away before the album was released.

Another interesting piece is the excellent arrangement of the classic Harry Kandel (born in Lwow) Klezmer tune "A Night In The Garden Of Eden", which features Jopek's hair-raising vocalese. Of course Klezmer music has always been an integral part of the Polish Folklore tapestry, in which the Jewish contribution was invaluable.

Overall this album is a Masterpiece from start to finish, which is no news to the numerous Jopek's fans. There is not one moment on this album, which is not inspirational and eloquent, heartwarming and heartfelt. Both deeply Polish and at the same time universally appealing this music knows no stylistic or Cultural boundaries. It is beautiful and sensitive and at the same time deeply emotional, soul-searching and introspective. In short, this album delivers everything one expects to hear when Great Artists are involved. Thank you, as always, my Dear!

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