Sunday, December 29, 2013

Michael J. Smith – Geomusic III-PL (2009) ***1/2

Michael J. Smith - piano
Zbigniew Namyslowski - saxophone, cello, flute
Jacek Bednarek - bass

ANEX 313

By Adam Baruch

This is one of the most unusual (at the time) albums recorded in Poland and one of the first Free Jazz / Improvised Music recordings. It was recorded during a tour in Poland by American born (resident also partly in Europe) Jazz / Contemporary Music composer Michael J. Smith, who was accompanied by Poland's top Jazz personality, saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski and bassist Jacek Bednarek. Namyslowski surprisingly plays not only saxophone but also cello and flute, which of course is quite surprising. The album consists of seven original compositions, all by Smith.

At the time of the recording Smith was in the early stages of developing his musical ideology, which he called "Geomusic" and several of his recordings were entitled using this idiom. Later on he would become a well known music scholar, composer and innovator, mostly in the fields of electronic music. He is still active today.

The music included here is a wonderful example of early Improvised Music, involving minimal melodic notation and based on careful interaction between the musician, mutual respect and virtuosity of the participants. Namyslowski, who usually played much more conventional music as far as form and structure were concerned, is the focal personality here and his cello playing is simply outstanding and outrageously original. The music lost absolutely nothing of its originality and pioneering spirit over the years.

Although Free Jazz and Improvised Music are today a substantial part of the Polish Jazz scene, almost four decades earlier it was quite rare and the fact that this music was released at all at the time is a miracle. The new generation of Polish improvisers should dig this album out and give it a proper listen, as it certainly is worth studying, as much as listening today.

Side Note: The Poljazz label, which originally released this album, was active for 20 years (between 1972 and 1991) and was owned by the Polish Jazz Society. Considering the fact that the music industry in the Socialist State was centralized and totally controlled, with just one State owned music company producing all the albums, the possibilities to record and release Jazz albums were extremely limited. Poljazz was conceived and founded in order to allow for many more Jazz (and other) albums to be released independently from the State owned Polskie Nagrania / Muza and as such revolutionized the music industry at the time, being the only such enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Polish label Anex reissued many of the original Poljazz albums on CD, bringing this fabulous music back to life.

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