Saturday, February 8, 2014

Aga Zaryan – Ksiega Olsnien (2011) ****1/2

Aga Zaryan - vocals
Michal Tokaj - piano
Darek Oleszkiewicz - bass
Krzysztof Herdzin - conductor

EMI 5099908449627

By Adam Baruch

This is the seventh album by Polish Jazz vocalist Aga Zaryan and a close companion to the album "A Book Of Luminous Things", released a few months earlier. If fact these two albums are identical as far as their instrumental contents is concerned, with the difference being that this album features lyrics in the Polish language, as opposed to its predecessor, which featured lyrics in English. Another slight difference is the fact that Polish Jazz vocalist Grzegorz Turnau guests on one song. I suggest to the reader to check out my review of "A Book Of Luminous Things" in order to explore the background information about these two albums and their relation to the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz as well as the information about the musicians involved in the recording.

One should not, however, assume that this is just a Polish language version of the same album. Language, and therefore consequently vocals, are intertwined intimately, as I've been trying to explain since many years. Each human language has its own melodic expression, flow, sensitivity, coloristic, sonority, etc. As a result the same song, sung in two different languages, simply "splits" into two separate entities, which can vary tremendously. This is even more obvious and evident in the case where the lyrics of the song are based on a poem, like all the songs here.

Most of the poems used as lyrics of these songs were originally written in Polish, which of course means that their "true" nature is full of the intricacies specific to that language, which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be translated into any other language. Just four of the songs here were translated from their original English version into Polish, which means that the majority of the poetry used appears in its original form. This fact has a tremendous influence on the result, which is quite different from the earlier version of the album.

Of course Jazz & Poetry is a very specific sub-genre, which demands a certain sensitivity and cultural background from its fans and avid followers, but even more so from the Artists involved. Zaryan brings forward her sensitivities, which are somehow, at least to me, much more complex and diversified in the Polish version of these songs. Her ability to play around with the words, juggle syllables, change accents and stretch notes are simply masterly herein. The very fact that these two albums use the same instrumental playback means that she managed to put together this album by surmounting such problems as different word lengths, accents, keeping the melodic lines intact and still manage to sound honest, moving and convincing. Definitely a victory of mind over matter!

Yes I personally prefer this version over the English language, not because it is "better" in any sense, but simply because as a natural Polish speaker it penetrates deeper into my psyche. People, who are not blessed with the knowledge of the Polish language, will definitely prefer the English version, in order to enjoy both the fabulous music and the wonderful poetry on their terms.

My admiration of Zaryan's awareness of the importance of lyrics, which she constantly demonstrates during her career, cannot be overstated. Her understanding that the Polish version of this album is a worthy piece of Art of its own right and determination to pull it through is truly commendable.

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