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Monday, April 6, 2015

Polish Jazz Week

Polish Jazz Week

This week we are leading up to Martin’s next installment of “FreeJazzBlog on Air” with a bunch of reviews focusing on the ever expanding avant-garde jazz scene in Poland. Centering around Warsaw and Kraków this vibrant and creative scene is worthy of celebration and will be the focus of Martin's and Julia's show on Friday the 10th on German public radio’s SWR2 (airing at 11 pm and online for a week following).

After an introduction on Polish jazz history we will present an overview of the latest and most interesting releases.

A Round Up on Polish Jazz

By Martin Schray and Stef

The connection between Poland and jazz has always been a special one. After WW II, before free jazz came up, it could even be called a European center for jazz (together with Sweden and Great Britain). Although this changed with the rise of free jazz in Europe in the middle of the 1960s, when the scenes in Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands became more important, Poland always had exciting and famous musicians like Krzysztof Komeda and Tomasz Stanko.  But also people who are not as well known like Andrzej Trzaskowski, whose 1965 album Synopsis (with Stanko on trumpet) already had free elements, or pianist/saxophonist Włodzimierz Nahorny, whose trio also released a real classic of European free jazz (Heart, in 1967), are inseparably linked to the European scene. Another classic album is Zbigniew Namysłowski’s Winobranie (1973) with Stanislaw Cieślak, Tomasz Szukalski, Pawel Jarzebski and Kazimierz Jonkisz.

Apart from fantastic musicians Poland has always had great festivals, labels and publications. Since 1964 there was “Jazz Forum”, a magazine which was also available in English and German since the late 1970s and which – according to Wolfram Knauer, the head of the German jazz institute – can be considered the most important jazz publication in the 1970s and 80s. At its peak it was distributed in 103 countries! It still exists (but as far as we know only in Polish).

And of course there was “Jazz Jamboree” in Warsaw, the most important jazz festival in Europe, where even people like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus played (but also free jazz musicians like Peter Brötzmann, Alex von Schlippenbach, Günter “Baby” Sommer and Conny Bauer) and which was already established in 1958.

On the other hand, the Polish free jazz scene lost its importance in the 1980s, as the scenes in Western Europe and the GDR had became more interesting; however, this changed with the fall of the iron curtain. Polish free jazz is literally booming, musicians like Mikołaj Trzaska, Wacław Zimpel, Adam Pierończyk, Mikrokolektyw or the Oleś brothers have released excellent albums. In addition, labels like NotTwo, ForTune, Kilogram, Multikulti or Bocian and venues like Alchemia in Kraków keep the tradition alive and have even put it on a new level.

A lot of information in this article is based on information by Ernst Nebhuth, who works for the jazz department at Ludwig Beck’s in Munich. He is one of the greatest experts on free jazz we know. Thanks a lot, Ernst.

Now – here is the music...

Sambar – Melt! (NotTwo, 2014) ****

Sambar are Paulina Owczarek and Tomasz Gadecki on baritone saxes and Melt! is their debut album which was recorded live at Alchemia in Kraków in 2013. Baritone sax duets are hard to find in improv and this one is a real bonfire of melodies, clicks and clacks, short runs and extended techniques – it’s a real journey into breath. The most interesting thing about this album is the rich timbre of these instruments, their dark and sombre sound and how the musicians intertwine. Owczarek and Gadecki circle each other, they fight and dance, but they always listen to each other respectfully. A very interesting album – not only for saxophone aficionados.

Listen to them here:

Olbrzym i Kurdupel - Work (Kilogram, 2014) ***

Sambar’s Tomasz Gadecki is also a part of Olbrzym i Kurdupel (Polish for “Giant and Dwarf”), here he plays the tenor and his partner is Marcin Bozek on bass guitar. But while Sambar is very focused and concentrated, Olbrzym i Kurdupel’s improvisations sometimes simply lead nowhere – which can be quite funny on the one hand but also a bit puzzling on the other. In “Part 3” they start elegantly next to each other, then they stop all of sudden, start anew, stop again, just to get lost somewhere. And I must admit that Bozek’s bass sound is not quite my cup of tea.

Pole – Radom (Kilogram, 2014) ****      

Pole is Jan Młynarski (drums, percussion), Peter Zabrodzki (guitar, bass, synthesizer) and Michał Górczyński (clarinets, flutes) and on the surface Radom is an album full of contradictions. On the one hand there are typical traditional Polish melodies played by the clarinet and the flute (mainly based on Jewish klezmer), on the other hand there are tons of electronic rubble, repetitive guitar riffs, absent-minded bass runs and a pulse that has gone completely wild. All of this at the very same time, for example in the opening track “Kieniewicz”. Górczyński seems to be a soulmate of Mikołaj Trzaska and Wacław Zimpel, so it’s logical that he is also part of their fabulous Ircha Quartet. Particularly on “Godzinki”, the longest track of the album, the trio develops a relentless meditative groove (at least in the first part), mainly due to Zabrodzki’s elegant, smooth bass lines and Górczyński’s repetitive licks. In the second part the track falls apart, which is nice to watch. Very Polish, very avant-garde, very good.

Kamil Szuszkiewicz - Bugle Call and Response (Wounded Knife, 2014) **½

By Stef

On this audiocassette, Polish flugelhorn player Kamil Szuszkiewicz offers us two faces of a solo performance : the A-side is acoustic, the B-side is electronically manipulated. The A-side is melancholy, intimate, refined and sad. The B-side sounds like a coffee percolator processed through a Moog synthesizer of the seventies.

Each side takes about thirteen minutes. An interesting experiment.

You can listen and download from Bandcamp or buy the cassette.


Colin Green said...

There are also strong connections between jazz and the great works of Polish cinema. I recommend the remastered music soundtracks, “Jazz in Polish Cinema - Out of the Underground 1958-1967”:

And for the films themselves, I recommend the “Polish Cinema Classics” on Second Run DVD, which you can get on Amazon.

ZielonyGrzyb said...

You've forgotten to mention one of the most interesting and internationally acclaimed Polish (free) jazz musicians, the violinist Zbigniew Seifert. He died early but had contributed, e.g., to the genuinely free album "Purple Sun" of the Tomasz Stanko Quintet, and played with Joachim Kühn, Cecil McBee and Jasper van't Hof, among others (

Anonymous said...