Saturday, December 28, 2013

Quartet – The Quartet (2009) ****1/2

Tomasz Szukalski - saxophone
Slawomir Kulpowicz - piano
Pawel Jarzebski - bass
Janusz Stefanski - drums

ANEX 302

By Adam Baruch

The Quartet was formed by the rhythm section of Zbigniew Namyslowski's so called "third quartet", i.e. pianist Slawomir Kulpowicz, bassist Pawel Jarzebski and drummer Janusz Stefanski, with the addition of saxophonist Tomasz Szukalski, one of Poland's all-time greatest Jazz musicians and a spectacular player of rare quality. Although Szukalski naturally dominated the sound of the ensemble, it was Kulpowicz who was the spiritual leader and the sole composer of all the original material they performed. Spiritually the music was soaked in the John Coltrane legacy, with Szukalski playing lengthy "wall of sound" solos, supported passionately by the rhythm section, with Kulpowicz vamping a la McCoy Tyner, Jarzebski delivering virtuosic bass parts and Stefanski raising all hell behind it all, which engulfed the overall effect with incredible power and overwhelming strength of expression, similar in character to the Coltrane late period recordings.

In spite of the fact that The Quartet was undoubtedly the most important Polish Jazz ensemble in the late 1970s, their recorded legacy is truly pitiful and includes this live album recorded in 1978 and their sole studio album, recorded in Finland in 1979 and released by the tiny independent Finnish label Leo Records (which released also two albums by Tomasz Stanko from the same period). Therefore the double CD full of superb archival radio and concert recordings by this ensemble, also entitled simply "The Quartet", released in 2013 by Polskie Radio is an absolute marvel and a must have for every Polish / European Jazz connoisseur.

Following the ensemble's breakdown in mid-1980, the Polish Jazz scene will never again experience this kind of music, so close in spirit, sound and emotion to the epicenter of Modern Jazz created by Coltrane. The Quartet's brief three and a half years period was the closest ever moment in which Polish Jazz would become very close to American Jazz of a decade earlier, both in spirit and in practice. The Quartet somehow managed to put aside the omnipresent Polish melancholy and lyricism, which dictates most of the unique music created under the Polish Jazz banner. Usually, when Polish Jazz musicians try to imitate their idols from across the pond, they fail rather miserably, with The Quartet being the only exception, which proves the rule.

Young Polish Jazz musicians should study this music note by note – this is universally sublime document of human expression, freedom and power of creation, which happens rarely. Inspired by Coltrane's music, this creation sparks a life of its own, which stands shoulder to shoulder with the original, without any inferiority complexes whatsoever. It is not a copy of the source; it is a thankful gratitude for the inspiration itself.

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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