Sunday, February 12, 2017

Krzysztof Komeda - 1965 - Astigmatic

Krzysztof Komeda

01. Astigmatic 22:50
02. Kattorna 7:20
03. Svantetic 15:50

Alto Saxophone – Zbigniew Namyslowski
Bass – Gunter Lenz
Drums – Rune Carlsson
Piano – Krzysztof Komeda
Trumpet – Tomasz Stanko

This music, encapsulated for eternity in a piece of plastic, is one of the great milestones of human Culture, an ultra-rare eruption of human genius. Recorded by a quintet led by Polish pianist / composer Krzysztof Komeda, the legendary Godfather of Polish Jazz, this is definitely the most important piece of music recorded in Eastern Europe, which changed the face of Culture far beyond what most people realize. Universally accepted as a model and artistic / aesthetic climax by generations of Jazz musicians in Komeda's native Poland and far beyond the country borders, this modern Jazz recording influenced innumerable minds and prompted endless artistic processes.

The album includes just three pieces of music: the title track; "Kattorna", which was a theme in the soundtrack of a movie by the Danish director Henning Carlsen; and "Svantetic", a tune dedicated to the Swedish poet Svante Forster, Komeda's friend. The quintet included trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski, German bassist Gunter Lenz and Swedish drummer Rune Carlsson. Playing in every possible grouping, from solo to a full quintet, these brilliant and inspired musicians manage to achieve a whole, which is so much more than a sum of its parts. The result goes way beyond soloing, improvising, interplaying and exchanging ideas; it is a sort of group creation, which builds upon the basic structures, which are the mesmerizing Komeda's melodies and soaring infinitely towards a musical heaven. There is everything here: melody, harmony, freedom and structure, rhythm and space, all simultaneously represented without conflicting and fighting for supremacy. Such harmonious music-making is indeed very rare and therefore priceless.

One might wonder how this wonderful music happened in Poland of all places. Well the reasons for this are numerous and complex, but of course genius knows no geographical limitations and catalyzed by the fertile intellectual background of the 1960s Poland, struggling with Socialist regime and longing for Freedom, Jazz became an escape route, which in this case found its true vocation. Of course the fact that Stanko and Namyslowski were (and thank God still are) exceptionally gifted musicians helped to materialize the potential of Komeda's music. One might as well look into Komeda's fascination (and adoration) of the music and life of John Coltrane, who served as a beacon and a model in the composer's path to inner enlightenment. And yet Komeda did not succumb to Coltrane's (or indeed the entire American Free Jazz movement) ideas blindly and unconditionally, as did many of his peers. He decided to incorporate the struggle for Freedom, which was a central scheme in Coltrane's philosophy (both musical and personal) with his deep European cultural roots and heritage, building his very personal bridge between Cultures. This is why his music works so well, regardless if it's a concert played in a Jazz club or a movie soundtrack. It is simply transcending stylistic or circumstantial limitations, as any higher level of Art is able to do. The fact that this music was created almost fifty years ago is a sad reminder of how little progress (if any) we managed to achieve since. In face of this fact we should cherish the great achievements of our Culture and keep them close to our hearts. This is definitely one of those great achievements, so let's treat it accordingly. Absolutely essential!

Andrzej Trzaskowski - 1967 - Seant

Andrzej Trzaskowski 

01. Seant [9:58]
02. Wariacja Na Temat 'Oj, Tam U Boru' [6:37]
03. The Quibble [7:58]
04. Cosinusoida [24:45]

Andrzej Trzaskowski - piano
Ted Curson - trumpet
Wlodzimierz Nahorny - alto saxophone
Janusz Muniak - soprano saxophone
Jacek Ostaszewski - bas
Adam Jedrzejowski - drums

Recorded in National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw, December 1965 and December 1966
Recording director: Antoni Karuzas
Recording engineer: Janusz Pollo

This monumental album, perhaps as important as fellow Polish Jazz Godfather Krzysztof Komeda's "Astigmantic", recorded at the same period, is unfortunately significantly less known and appreciated, both in Poland and abroad, which is a great misfortune. Pianist / composer Andrzej Trzaskowski contributed enormously to the development of Polish Jazz, especially in the field of more experimental, avant-garde, Free Jazz music, which was rapidly developing worldwide in the 1960s. This sextet recording, which includes American trumpeter Ted Curson (of Charles Mingus fame), who was spending as much of his time in Europe as at home, playing along brilliant Polish crew: saxophonists Wlodzimierz Nahorny and Janusz Muniak, bassist Jacek Ostaszewski and drummer Adam Jedrzejowski. The music, all original compositions by Trzaskowski, is simply brilliant and absolutely pioneering in every respect. Listening to this album in retrospect one can hear clearly that in the historic perspective it was as innovative and groundbreaking as anything else created at the time over the pond and beyond the Iron Curtain. In addition it is also aesthetically beautiful and intellectually challenging. An absolute must to any Polish Jazz enthusiast; this is an essential piece of Polish Jazz history.

Andrzej Trzaskowski - 1965 - The Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet

Andrzej Trzaskowski 
The Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet

01. Requiem Dla Scotta La Faro [2:47]
02. Synopsis (Expression I, Expression II, Impression) [18:13]
03. Ballada Z Silverowska Kadencja [1:43]
04. Sinobrody [10:22]
05. Post Scriptum [2:44]
06. Wariacja Jazzowa Na Temat 'Chmiela' / 'The Hop'  [11:05]

Polish Jazz vol. 4
Recorded in Warsaw at Polskie Nagrania Studio
January 20-22, 1965 (tracks 1-4), February 18, 1965 (tracks 5-6)

Tomasz Stanko – trumpet
Janusz Muniak – soprano and alto sax
Andrzej Trzaskowski – piano
Jacek Ostaszewski – bass
Adam Jedrzejowski – drums

One thing I like about this is that its off-ness is mostly rhythm-centered as opposed to tone-centered. Sure there's dissonance here and there but most of the things that mark this as "avant-garde" involve Trzaskowski and company's tendency to throw in weird, offbeat emphasis and countermelodies. It's a refreshing alternate take on what it means to push the boundaries.
There's also a lot of lower key explorations that the quintet take in between their more involved pieces. i'm not just talking about the interstitial pieces like "Requiem dla Scota La Faro" and "Post Scriptum," but the moments within the longerpieces where the group quiets down for a spell without breaking the momentum of the piece.
Part of the reason that I'm so taken with the 18 minute "Synopsis" is that it lays out all the groups strengths without feeling like an excuse to do so. Let me try to explain that better: most songs that play as omnibus entries to show off just how many things a given group can do feel somewhat self-congratulatory and unearned. "Synopsis" flows naturally as a song of its own while leading you through the whole of the band's breadth and it's so much better for it.
The other lengthy pieces don't quite match "Synopsis" in scope, but they definitely show that Trzaskowski and his collaborators have an easy chemistry with each other. They've also got a nice playful streak in them as on the closing Polish folk interpretation "Wariacja jazzowa na temat "chmiela"" that makes for a nice ly varied listen.
Truth be told, the shorter pieces here are a bit of a distraction to me. They're more showcases for Tzraskowski alone rather than the quintet, and the quintet is the bigger draw and the most impressive aspect of the release is how they work together. They're not really doing anyhting terribly new and exciting, but their playing as a unit is a joy to witness.
Though perhaps most recognized for his soundtracks, he also left behind two stellar Avant-Garde pieces, as well as contributions and collaborations. Polish Jazz, Vol. 4 is probably the most structured, and will give you the clearest picture of what a great composer Trzaskowski was. His recordings might be hard to get by, but it's worth the struggle. 
The album flows majestically through four seasons of nothing but flowers, and takes it down while keeping it interesting. Not as progressive as some of the more famous Polish composers, but it offers something different, and just as good. A flow that kills, and horns tuned to the process of moving-forward. " The Hoop" is a crystal clear piece, crafted with a precision only a true Avant-Garde composer is able to achieve. A fade in/fade out showcase of drums and piano, drawing circles with a steady hand. 
All of the songs are perfectly paced, the solos executed well, and there are varying amounts of 'free' playing to keep things on edge. It is a varied affair, though it definitely has that European inflection, or more specifically, Polish.
Once you have listened to Komeda and Stanko, this should be your next port of call. Pure brilliance.