Thursday, August 9, 2018

Extra Ball - 1978 - Aquarium Live No 3

Extra Ball
Aquarium Live No 3

01. Dobry Rock (7:35)
02. Atlantis (14:20)
03. Sloneczny Poranek (6:30)
04. Stella By Starlight (15:25)

Jaroslaw Smietana: Guitar
Wladyslaw Sedecki: Piano
Andrzej Olejniczak: Sax
Jan Cichy: Bass
Marek Stach: Percussion

Recorded IX. 1978 r. w Klubie Jazzowym PSJ "Akwarium" w Warszawie

For those who followed Extra Ball back then – probably not many inside Poland and barely a handful outside the Country, and here I tip my hat off to these guys who kept the Jazz torch alight in such an unsympathetic environment, or maybe I’m just pretending to be 21st century politically correct and it wasn’t actually That oppressive behind that infamous Curtain - it must have been astonishing to find so little in common between this Live album and their previous studio one, namely considering that apart from the drummer it was exactly the same line-up up on the “Akwarium” stage in that September 1978 evening; Right! In my humble opinion the drummer factor can’t be ignored, because although Marek Stach surely knew how to keep the beat, his low-key playing is miles away from the hyperactive Benedykt Radecki; and I’m not even mentioning his floor-tom sounds almost as slack as if he was hitting a cardboard box…

As we now all know- and our knowledgeable friend Adam informed below –insurmountable tensions would soon leave Jaroslaw Smietana fronting a completely renewed band, and the sole survivor from this line-up; to a certain extent it was the mutinous Wladyslaw Sendecki and Andrzej Olejniczak , who would soon form a band where they could make good use of their excellent piano and sax skills in a more traditional Jazz setting, who won this round! However this was also an excellent occasion for Smietana to display his more traditional Jazz guitar chops, and same as the other two he jumped on the occasion both to stretch his muscles and to exemplify how things can be kept interesting on extended solos! Actually even bass player Jan Cichy reveals skills “Birthday”  listeners could not suspect of – just listen to how after an inspired solo he comes up with a conclusion whereupon the band smoothly builds up the theme’s reprise.

Finally, the most striking evidence of the conflicting directions/intentions is certainly the material played on that evening, including, on the one hand takes on the classic “Stella By Starlight” and on McCoy Tyner’s “Atlantis”, and on the other hand examples of the direction the Smietana/Sendecki  songwriting partnership was heading to: “Dobry Rok”, a beautiful and sinuous soprano and guitar stated mid-tempo theme, which could well have been a fruit of Hancock’s pen; intelligent guitar and Fender Rhodes solos precede the tenor’s entry, which speeds things up and takes the piece in an Afro-Latin direction with a raucous Barbieri/Sanders like tone , and the hauntingly gorgeous, soprano and bass spelled “Sloneczny Poranek”(Sunny Morning”), a slowly build up and gently painted atmosphere in a not too dissimilarly Shorter/Weather Report-like  vein, a fluid architecture where improvisation intercalates with pre-rehearsed unisons.

“Stella by Starlight” rises up sympathetically and tranquil from the final blissful  rays of the previous morning, as if Coltrane and Pass had met for the occasion, but the tenor soon leads it into an active walking pace and to a blistering exhibition; other fine solos follow, but after the 10 minutes mark, with the long bass solo and lack of drums activity, piece and interaction start to loose steam; not so on “Atlantis”, taken at a bouncy tempo, the uncomplicated modal  changes of the tenor and guitar spelled theme are an ideal ground for spontaneity and interplaying, as when Smietana’s muted-strings’ lines tirelessly stimulate Olejniczak’s rousing tenor solo, in a contagious élan that leaves no one untouched - even Stach uses his cowbells et al!  

These live performances are the last recording by the original lineup, except for drummer Marek Stach, who replaced Radecki. Recorded live at the Warsaw Aquarium Jazz club, this is an amazing performance with a band at their highest peak, but torn internally as to the musical direction, which led to their demise soon after, with Sendecki and Olejniczak forming Sun Ship. The inclusion of two Jazz standards clearly points out the tendency of some band members to return to the more traditional Jazz forms rather that continue the Fusion path. Smietana's superb guitar licks will amaze every Fusion fan, who was never exposed to his performances and Sendecki's keyboard wizardry is simply astounding. This is an excellent album, which all Fusion lovers on this planet should be proud to have in their collections. An absolute must!