Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Štěpánka Balcarová - Life And Happiness Of Julian Tuwim (2017)

Štěpánka Balcarová

Małgorzata Hutek - vocals
Štěpánka Balcarová - trumpet
Marcel Bárta - tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinets
Robert Fischmann - flute, alto flute, piccolo
Nikola Kołodziejczyk - piano
Jaromir Honzák  - bass
Grzegorz Masłowski - drums

Life And Happiness Of Julian Tuwim


By Adam Baruch

This is the debut album as a leader by Czech trumpeter / composer Štěpánka Balcarová, recorded with a septet comprising of Czech and Polish Jazz musicians: vocalist Małgorzata Hutek, saxophonist Marcel Bárta, flautist Robert Fischmann, pianist Nikola Kołodziejczyk, bassist Jaromir Honzák  and drummer Grzegorz Masłowski. As the title suggests, the album presents nine poems by Polish/Jewish poet Julian Tuwim, which were made into songs with original music composed by Balcarová.

The album is a typical Jazz & Poetry project, which apparently is a specialty of the Eastern European region (Poland especially), and which keeps the wondrous and much neglected elsewhere idiom alive and kicking. Of course tackling Tuwim's poems, who after all was the most important 20th Century Polish poet, is an extremely risky undertaking, especially in view of the fact that his poems were already made into songs countless times before by some of the best composers out there. Balcarová decided to compose music to Tuwim's early poetry, published (with one exception) between 1918 and 1923, which are more rarely used as sources of songs, and therefore she brings forward to the public eye a lesser known facet of his poetry.

I am happy to say that Balcarová managed to create a consistent song cycle, with her music being very appropriate to the poetic contents. The music is full of melancholy, perhaps even a bit too somber at times, since these poems are considered as optimistic and vital in comparison to Tuwim's later work, which was full of cynicism and resentment. Nevertheless the music, as already mentioned, is more than appropriate in this context and its melodic qualities, which incorporate strong Eastern European folkloristic motifs, is definitely impressive. The polyrhythmic compositions are the most successful and interesting musically, but they are a minority.

The instrumental work is also very solid from start to finish, with excellent solo parts by the players and supportive rhythm section. Kołodziejczyk is definitely the key player, who keeps the harmonic structures in place and accompanies the vocals amicably, adding some splendid solo parts on the fly. The vocals suffer from some problems: they are way too theatrical and loud; there is way too much vibrato and almost no reference between the actual lyrics (poems) and the way they are expressed. Hutek sings forcefully even in the most intimate moments, which at its extreme manifestations is pretty annoying. I'd rather have these texts whispered rather than sung the way they are. But to be fair these texts are extremely difficult and combined with the music, which also is often challenging, Hutek does the best she can to make it work and overall, with a bit of acquired taste, does fine.

But this album is all about the music, first and foremost, and as such it is a splendid piece of work, that deserves to be heard and enjoyed. Beautifully packaged and with a booklet that includes the original poems in Polish and Czech and English translations, this is a piece of Culture that true connoisseurs of the Jazz & Poetry idiom would absolutely love to have in their collections. Wholeheartedly recommended!

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