Introduced to Poland in the turbulent 20th century, jazz music holds a distinct link with Polish culture due to the country’s history. Having been banned during Stalin’s rule, jazz continued to be popular throughout these repressive years through record smuggling and shortwave radio stations. After Stalin’s death, jazz resurfaced from the underground and has since continued to be a popular music genre, with Poland producing lists of talented musicians whose influence can be felt around the world.
RGG – Szymanowski
This is the sixth album by the exquisite Polish jazz piano trio RGG, and their first release following the changeover of their piano player, with Lukasz Ojdana replacing the founding member Przemyslaw Raminiak. For a piano trio the replacement of the pianist is equivalent more or less to a heart transplant in a human body, which is of course a tremendous upheaval. The fact that such transition not only is possible, but is also successful is nothing short of a miracle. Bassist Maciej Garbowski and drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk should be congratulated for going through this experience unspoiled and unshaken in their team spirit. The fact that the trio chose to retain its name (rather than changing it to OGG for example) is a most welcome sign of respect towards their departed colleague and the will to continue the splendid tradition they created so far, a fine and very rare example of camaraderie winning over ego.
Obara International – Komeda
It’s not a secret that Scandinavia has always been a fascination for Polish saxophonist Maciej Obara, especially in recent times when he started to look in his music for the ‘cooler means of expression’. It was therefore a happy coincidence when during the Take Five: Europe meeting in 2012 his musical path crossed with two Norwegians: double bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nielssen. His decision to record the music of legendary Krzysztof Komeda seems to be natural. On the one hand Komeda is a point of reference for any jazz musician in Poland and to establish himself on the Polish scene it is mandatory to record his music. Moreover Obara and pianist Dominik Wania were lucky to have some personal connection to Komeda as they both collaborated with Tomasz Stańko, a favourite trumpeter of Komeda, in his new Balladyna Project where they also played some of Komeda’s compositions.
Waclaw Zimpel Quartet – Stone Fog
Despite his young age Wacław Zimpel is one of the most important personalities in the field of free and improvised jazz in Poland. And this is not only because of his many collaborations with Polish and international artists, but above all because of his special style. Already with the first songs I heard from him I got the feeling that this must be something special, and since then I have been following his development with great interest.
Mikrokolektyw – Absent Minded
Forward-thinking American jazz musicians have made a ton of important and influential recordings for European labels, but seeing an exploratory European outfit on an American label is more of a rarity. So it was a noteworthy event when the Polish duo Mikrokolektyw – drummer Kuba Suchar and trumpeter Artur Majewski – released their debut disc Revisit and the live DVD Dew Point on Chicago-based indie Delmark back in 2010. In operation for over half a century, Delmark is revered in jazz circles for releasing some of the earliest waxings of Sun Ra and the first recordings by the musicians who would become the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as well as a stack of seminal urban blues discs by Junior Wells, Magic Sam, and J.B. Hutto, among others. Producer Raymond Salvador Harmon heard them in 2007 and brought them to the label.
Shofar – Ha-Huncvot
The existence of this trio, which released its debut album in 2007, speaks to the resurgence of Jewish culture in Poland since the demise of communism there. Inspired by the pioneering work of ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski (whose work documenting indigenous musics in the Ukraine, Poland and Moldavia beginning in the 1920s is roughly analogous to that of John Lomax in the American South), the three musicians – guitarist Raphael Roginski, altoist and bass clarinettist Mikolaj Trzaska and drummer Macio Moretti – apply a free jazz spin to centuries-old Hasidic musical forms including negunim (wordless melodies) or freylakhs (meant to accompany dancing). In their intent, they are not unlike John Zorn’s Masada quartet, which plays Jewish themes as Ornette Coleman might have re-imagined them ca. 1959.
Hunger Pangs – Meet Meat
The first association with the title of this album is that of the hunger for personal development, for art and creativity. It can indeed lead to mental and physical problems when someone is hindered in his self-unfolding – maybe that can be called pain too. But even here the band members should not be affected as they are touring for several years in many different formations in Poland, Denmark and Germany. The liner notes then indeed clarify that the name of the trio stems from a book. You can feel though that on this album three musicians came together who are bound and determined. Uncompromisingly they lay before the listener their own compositions, most of which were written by Marek Kądziela. From the first song onward it is clear that the three are not here to produce a ‘nice’ album – these songs had to get out.
Marcin Masecki – Polonezy
Marcin Masecki – still young, in his 30s, a graduate of famous Berklee College of Music – has already gathered experience so unbelievably rich that it makes his personality absolutely unique on the Polish music scene. In his teens he presented himself to the audience as a prodigiously talented pianist employed by some of Poland’s best jazz musicians. He collaborated with such great players as Andrzej Jagodziński and Zbigniew Wegehaupt of older generations, and also some of the most successful jazz musicians from younger ones like Grzegorz Piotrowski (Alchemik’s Dracula in Bucharest) and Wojtek Mazolewski (Pink Freud’s Alchemia). He summed up this period by releasing in 2006 the album Live at Mińsk Mazowiecki in the well known jazz trio format with Garth Stevenson on double bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums, which was easily one of the best mainstream recordings in the last decade in Polish jazz.
Dominik Wania Trio – Ravel
This album by pianist Dominik Wania is nominally his debut. But in fact Wania is already a fully matured artistic personality. A quick overview of the recordings in which he took part in the last couple of years is evidence of this and at the same time a testimony to the stunning renaissance of Polish jazz: Piotr Baron’s Jazz na Hrade, Maciej Obara’s Equilibrium, Bronisław Suchanek’s Sketches In Blue or Jacek Kochan’s Filing the Profile and Man of No Words are all crème-de-crème of jazz in Poland in recent times which are unimaginable without Dominik’s creative contribution. Indeed by his participation in these projects Wania has won such an esteem that his debut may be easily described as one of most anticipated in Polish jazz in the last couple of years.
Mazolewski/Gonzalez Quintet – Shaman
Like Don Cherry, Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez’s music is organic, spiritual and cathartic. Wherever he travels, he carries with him a repertoire of tunes he’s played with musicians from all over the world, along with an aura of family and community. Last year, he and Polish bassist Wojtek Mazolewski collaborated on two stellar releases, the 7-inch Wind Streaks in Syrtis Major and the 12-inch EP Bandoleros en Gdansk. Now, on Shaman, released by the new Polish label ForTune, the two men co-lead a quintet with tenor man Marek Pospieszalski (another returnee from the aforementioned dates), the astonishing pianist Joanna Duda (who plays with Mazolewski in his quintet), and drummer Jerzy Rogiewicz (from the group Levity Trio).
Power of the Horns – Alaman
Alaman is not only Power of the Horn’s debut release but, with the number 001, it’s also the first position in the catalogue of a new Polish jazz music label ForTune – a quick view on their list makes you sure these guys are serious about publishing good music. Power of the Horns is led by Piotr Damasiewicz who’s responsible for the compositions and for conducting the group, which gathers together some of the hottest names on the Polish modern jazz scene. They’ve been performing together for a couple of years, gaining a big, if underground, reputation, and the official release was in fact long overdue.