Thursday, January 9, 2020

High Definition Quartet – Dziady (2019)

High Definition Quartet

Mateusz Śliwa - tenor saxophone
Piotr Orzechowski - piano
Alan Wykpisz - bass
Grzegorz Pałka - drums



By Adam Baruch

This is the third album by Polish Jazz ensemble High Definition Quartet, which comprises of saxophonist Mateusz Śliwa, pianist/composer Piotr Orzechowski (a.k.a. Pianohooligan), bassist Alan Wykpisz and drummer Grzegorz Pałka (each of the three albums features a different drummer). On this album the ensemble collaborates with five electronic music composers: Polish veteran/pioneer of the idiom Krzysztof Knittel, Igor Boxx (a.k.a. Igor Pudło), Americans William Basinski and Robert Rich and Austrian Christian Fennesz. The album presents ten original compositions, five of which are performed by the ensemble and were composed by Orzechowski and five shorter pieces, each composed and performed by one of the above listed electronic music composers (except for the Knittel piece which was co-composed with Orzechowski and co-executed with the ensemble), which are sandwiched between the ensemble pieces.

The album's title "Dziady" ("Forefathers' Eve") refers of course to the epic poetic drama by the Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz, considered as one of the greatest works of European Romanticism and a source of controversial interpretations throughout the convoluted Polish political history, famous for its role in the 1968 Polish Political crisis, but retaining its prophetic actuality to this very day. The drama was staged many times over the years of course and one could speculate that this music could be considered as a possible soundtrack/stage music to an imaginary/future spectacle.

Combining Jazz with electronic/ambient music is of course quite fashionable these days and this year's (2019) Polish Jazz recording harvest offers several such outings. In most cases the electronic/ambient music is closely amalgamated with the Jazzy content, whereas on this album, with the exception of the opening Knittel/Orzechowski track, the rest of the electronic / ambient tracks stand on their own musically, which raises a basic speculation as to their integration within the album's musical fabric and its continuity. Personally I feel that their absence would not have changed the album's overall effect dramatically.

The Jazz part of the album is however absolutely brilliant, as one might expect. Orzechowski's dramatic music, rich in texture and full of imagination, is delightful from start to finish. The five seemingly separate themes constitute a coherent whole, which is perfectly executed by the quartet. Orzechowski's piano playing is radiant as always, and he proves to be on top of the heap, in spite of the fact that his recording output is sadly way too infrequent for my liking. Śliwa manages to keep his unique personal style, which sets him apart from most contemporary young Polish Jazz saxophonists, and who sadly also does not record frequently enough. Big Bear Wykpisz is amazing as always, a monster bass player in every bone and muscle of his body – he does play constantly and is omnipresent on the local scene, being probably the most sought after bassist around these days. Pałka integrated with the three founding members without a hitch, which is completely natural in view of his achievements lately. Together they are able to carry a tune as well as open up and improvise, supporting each other amicably and offer a superb listening experience.

The album was released by a new record label on the Polish market called Anaklasis Records. I must admit that I was quite taken aback by the primitive/simplistic cover design; perhaps this is some kind of new sophisticated graphic aesthetics, but it looks plain ugly to me. This music surely deserves a better packaging. The album includes an extensive booklet, which offers a bilingual version of an essay by Polish music journalist Jarosław Szubrycht.

Overall this is a brilliant piece of music, ambitious and searching, which stands up to the highest echelon of contemporary European Jazz and which is consistent with the earlier work by High Definition. Hopefully the listeners won't be discouraged by the cover and reach out to embrace this exquisite music, as it truly deserves it. Well done Gentlemen!

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