ol' jazz news 2011







Today (Oct. 26, 2011) I witnessed the invasion from Outer space and I am a different man now. The mission was called Starlicker and had three astronauts on board. Like a triple demon they set out on a journey in search of the unknown worlds.

Drummer John Herndon was in charge of the engine room, supplying his own kind of first-rate fuel for supersonic traveling. Cornetist Rob Mazurek stayed in the control room, checking and adjusting the route. And vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, a cross between brave Ulysses and a scout, ventured to look for the New Spaceways.

It was a long Odyssey through a perfect vacuum of the eternal astral darkness towards the light. A progress in three stages plus an encore. John Herndon, as the inventor of magic fuel (which is a combination of wood, metal, skins and superblue kryptonite) gives the crew the most powerful drive and energy. John is so determined and has so much strength that no alien forces can stop him. Ever!

Commander Rob Mazurek blew his cosmic, occasionally muted, horn like mad. Freely and generously scattering the mysterious sounds, ancient to the future, he was shouting out secret tribal messages from the long forgotten past. In this, Mazurek was being accompanied by the daring Adasiewicz, creating a new concept of call and response communication, still so valid in the Space Age.

Jason rejected all limitations on his creative forces and he made free use of all sorts of magic swords and shields, brandishing, hitting and sometimes even hurling them, thus creating Unidentified Firing Objects. He often left the rocket for a spacewalk, getting boldly farther and farther into the unknown, when suddenly his safety cord broke and he started drifting away like a slo-mo jazzbo into the free form nothingness. Luckily for him, at the very last moment his friends saved him and their rhythm capsule landed securely at the RE cosmodrome base.

Even Copernicus, who earned his great learning in Krakow, knew that stars usually fell on Alabama. But these three exploding stars fell on the Lemland, bringing new light and enlightment to us terrestrials on that astro black autumn-in-Krakow night.

Mission impossible has been accomplished.




Rarely have I heard so much good live music during one week. Sacrum Profanum, now in its ninth edition, is a Krakow festival dedicated to avantgarde music. This time the main focus was on American minimalism and the celebration for Steve Reich's birthday. And although the great composer will be 75 on October 3, the festival was held in September. This way it could begin on 09/11 to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack on the NYC's WTC on its tenth anniversary.

The opening night's gig took place inside a gigantic steelplant located in Nowa Huta, the famous industrial district of Krakow. Actually, all of the festival's concerts took place in various postindustrial spaces, the other two being the Museum of Urban Engineering and the Laznia Nowa Theatre.

These three venues represented the festival's three segments called Freak, Modern Classic and Made in Poland. And the first evening, in the Electrolytic Galvanizing Plant, was a part of the "Freak" thread. Steve Reich performed with Ensemble Modern and Synergy Vocals. One of the three compositions was Daniel Variations (2006) dedicated to the memory of Daniel Pearl, the American reporter, kidnapped and brutally murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. It was especially moving to hear it here, as Piotr Stanczak, a Polish geologist from a Krakow company was also kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan exactly seven years later, in February 2009.

Jonny Greenwood played his own version of Electric Counterpoint originally recorded by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny in 1987. Greenwood interpretation was rather straight and simplistic which, by the way, is nothing wrong, especially in the context of minimalism, but it did not leave me thrilled. Still, the rock part of the crowd seemed satisfied. Which is a value in itself as, hopefully, some of them might start listening to something new, say, beyond Radiohead.

Steve Reich, just like Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Philip Glass, was a vital force in the creation of the so-called minimalist music. And now, in a massive presentation we could listen to many of his works written between 1967 (Piano Phase) and 2008 (2x5). During five late night concerts at the Laznia Nowa Theatre in Nowa Huta his best compositions were performed including Three Tales, Different Trains, Clapping Music, Double Sextet or Six Marimbas.

Other composers like Terry Riley, John Adams, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon were given special concerts at the Museum of Urban Engineering. The original version of Terry Riley's In C was performed for the very first time. Top musicians were invited to play namely Ensemble Modern, Alarm Will Sound, Asko l Schonberg, Klangforum Wien and Bang on a Can All Stars (including Todd Reynold's guest appearance on electric violin). These superb groups delivered perfect renditions of all the works to the delight of the enchanted audiences. And it must be stressed that the sound quality was always impeccable and especially so at the theatre gigs. Not a minor feat, considering they're all postindustrial buildings.

To add a different flavor to the festival's main dish, a special project called Made in Poland. Milosz Sounds was introduced. In the Czeslaw Milosz Year (Milosz was a Polish Nobel Prize winning poet born in 1911) five important composers of the younger generation were asked to write a piece inspired by his work. Pawel Mykietyn and Agata Zubel have been very well known and acclaimed for years and Aleksandra Gryka, Jagoda Szmytka and Wojciech Ziemowit Zych follow closely in their footsteps getting wider recognition. They did their best albeit with varying results.

But let us go back to the Nowa Huta Steelworks. Perhaps in an attempt to give Steve Reich's wonderful music more exposure and to attract younger crowds, the first and, even more so, the last day was planned as a rock tribute to the outstanding jubilarian. Guest appearances from some of the stars of alternative pop/rock like Tom Verlaine of Television, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Adrian Utley from Portishead, Aphex Twin or Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) were announced. As it turned out, Tom Verlaine finally could not make it to Krakow which was a huge disappointment, as lots of people had been expecting him to come here for the first time ever.

They were supported by two Polish jazz pianists Leszek Mozdzer and Pianohooligan (real name Piotr Orzechowski). The veteran Mozdzer is one of the most important piano players in the history of Polish jazz and his latest CD Komeda has recently become a hit. Mozdzer played Piano Phase, a composition originally written for two pianists. He was the first musician to play it on two pianos at the same time. Just doing this is already an impossible task, and what's more, he also added his own improvised parts to the piece. Steve Reich was delighted.

During that last gig the composer spoke to us from above. He made comments on each piece from a large screen, giving his fans insight into his life and work. He emphasized his love of jazz and its importance for the whole minimal school. If not for jazz, there would be no minimalism. Well, these credits sound fantastic I must say. But if you go out to see John Coltrane 50 times, it's definitely not just to kill time. Steve Reich seemed happy with the whole festival. And that final concert was perhaps the only birthday party in his lifetime that gathered some 3000 guests.

Many happy returns Mr Reich (also to Krakow)! 




Gil Scott-Heron was a great American jazz poet, novelist, musician and songwriter. He died on May 27, 2011 at the age of 62.

Scott-Heron's musical and literary careers started very early. His first novel The Vulture, which he wrote when he was 19, was published in 1970 and another one, titled The Nigger Factory, followed the next year.

His debut LP Small Talk At 125th And Lenox, produced by Bob Thiele for his new label Flying Dutchman, was basically a live spoken word performance accompanied only by congas and percussion. Thiele preferred it that way as at the time he had no money to hire any musicians for the session. The LP brought Heron's all time classic "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised".

The song was re-recorded the next year for the second album, the studio debut, Pieces Of A Man. The release included also "Lady Day and John Coltrane", "Save the Children" and  "Home Is Where the Hatred Is". This time Bob Thiele invited Ron Carter and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.




Today (April 27) Komeda would be 80. As you probably know this outstanding jazz musician and composer died in a Warsaw hospital in 1969 due to complications after a tragic accident in Hollywood. His friends and fans will celebrate the date at many events, concerts, film shows, panel discussions and lots more. Among the important people who will appear, look out for Zbigniew Namysłowski who recorded the legendary Astigmatic album with Komeda and the composer's stepson Tomasz Lach who takes care of his legacy.

To read more about Komeda go to OL' JAZZ NEWS.




Witold Kujawski died at home in Ostrow Wielkopolski on March 24. Nowadays relatively forgotten, he was one of the key jazz figures in the postwar Poland. An enthusiastic jazz aficionado, he became very active promoting swing in Krakow right after the war. Because there was no place where musicians could perform jazz music, Kujawski started organizing famous jam sessions at his Krakow flat. These, now legendary, sessions soon attracted many future stars of jazz in Poland. And with some of them he later played in the first important jazz group called Melomani. The band featured Jerzy Dudus Matuszkiewicz on tenor and clarinet and Andrzej Trzaskowski on piano. Their drummer was Witold Sobocinski who later became a world famous cinematographer/director of photography.

At the end of the 1940's Kujawski discovered a fine young pianist in their hometown Ostrow. He invited the boy to come to Krakow to sit in at his jams. The pianist's name was Krzysztof Trzcinski, soon to become internationally known as Krzysztof Komeda.

Another of Kujawski's great achievements was organizing (together with a friend) the 1st Krakow Zaduszki Jazzowe (All Souls' Day Jazz Festival) in 1954 which is perhaps the oldest existing jazz festival in Europe.




Yesterday was the last day of the International Percussion Festival "Sources and Inspirations". Although it started in 2003, now it was its seventh edition as there were gap years for various reasons (some of them of financial nature). Anyway, in the past the organizers managed to invite such greats as Pierre Favre, Ralph Peterson or Ed Thigpen.

The festival was an idea of Jan Pilch, an excellent drummer himself. He is a professor at the Krakow Academy of Music, where he teaches percussion and where the event usually takes place. And as before, the last four days (Feb. 17-20) were filled with all kind of percussive noises from all over the world.

The European performers like Martin Lorenz from Switzerland, The Freiburg Percussion Ensemble or the local bands: the Amadrums and also the teenagers from The Matchwood Trio concentrated mainly on the contemporary material. They performed works by Iannis Xenakis, John Cage or Georges Aperghis among others. But there were also groups from other continents and cultures. From Taiwan came The Succession Percussion Group presenting a sort of percussion theatre which combines sound effects, light show, something they call "bodily drama" and percussive music.

One day was exclusively devoted to a more ethnic/roots approach. The Polish all-drum band Ritmodelia played primarily Brazilian music, but also the rhythms from the Carribbean and Africa. Then the West African Project featured a group of the Guinea drummers, a female dancer and a Polish percussionist. These two performances were extremely energetic and lively, encouraging the audience to clap, shout and dance.

The fourth day brought AKKU from Norway (two female singers, a tuba, drums with a Polish saxophone player Grzech Piotrowski) who play a blend of the Sami, Yoik and Innuit traditions. The Krakow Academy's big band led by Wojciech Groborz played as fiery as each year. Groborz is a fine bebop pianist, arranger and bandleader. He has been involved in big band leading for all his life and now he uses his broad experience as a successful educator. His students sound great and I hope we will hear more about them soon. On Manteca, their last number, they were supported by the amazing Billy Hart on drums.

The biggest highlight, however, was a special quartet with Billy Hart, Ed Schuller, Robert Majewski and Piotr Wylezol. Though representing different generations and coming from different backgrounds, they are a very tight unit and became a huge success. I don't know how long they had played together before, but that gig proved their top form and complete mutual understanding. And the climax was when they joined forces with Leszek Zadlo to play his composition GASP, dating back to the times when he and Billy Hart had a band together. Leszek Zadlo is an outstanding sax player, composer and educator who left Krakow in the 1960's and is now based in Munich. He needs no warm up and he played like a dream, but when the band finished, it was time to wake up and wave good bye until the next time.




Andrzej Przybielski, who died on February 9, was a legend of Polish jazz. Born at the end of WWII, he belonged to the generation that shaped this music in Poland. Although starting out in the early 1960's as a trad jazz cornet player, for the rest of his life he was associated with all the modern styles, especially free and avantgarde.

Przybielski worked and recorded with the country's most prominent musicians like pianist/composer Andrzej Kurylewicz, Tomasz Stanko, rock/jazz group SBB, jazz/rock/electronic genius Czeslaw Niemen or an underground/new wave band Variete. He was always at home with all kinds of true, noncommercial sounds.

His usual collaborators, however, were the best free players available, including bassist Helmut Nadolski, drummer Wladyslaw Jagiello, pianist/electroacoustic composer Andrzej Biezan, bassist Jacek Bednarek or vocalist Andrzej Mitan. As you can easily imagine, their vision of music and art was not common, and so it was practically impossible for them to make a living that way. Back then, this sort of expression was barely tolerated by the media. Now it completely isn't. So, words like dedication are not an exaggeration here.

Being such an outsider, both artistically and personally, it is amazing how he could survive in the first place. Maybe it was thanks to his profound knowledge of music, sound techniques and improvisation but also his broad interests. Apart from jazz, rock and experimental music he was very much into theatre music.

Always open to new experiences and inspirations, he often collaborated with younger musicians of the next generations. He had his own band called Andrzej Przybielski Association. He also performed and recorded with Sing Sing Penelope with whom he made a live CD Stirli People.




There's a new jazz festival in the small town of Trzcianka in northwest Poland. Oh well, you might say, still another one!, as the country has now well over a hundred jazz festivals. But in this case it is a bit different. Unlike some star-studded monsters stretching over weeks or months, this is a really small event (Feb. 18-19).

It is organized by one person only - Bogdan Ratajczak, a true jazz aficionado and his goal is to commemorate Zbigniew Seifert, the jazz violin genius on the 32nd anniversary of his untimely death. It will include a screening of the excerpts of a new, still unfinished, documentary Passion by an American filmmaker Erin Harper. It is titled after Seifert's legendary American album, which (what a shame!!!) has still not been reissued. So cross your fingers for Erin! She's been doing it for a long time now, but when she finishes the results will amaze you. You will have a chance to hear a lecture by Bogdan Ratajczak himself as well.

There will also be Violin Summit, a concert of two young jazz groups led by promising new violinists influenced by Zbiggy. They are Adam Baldych with Damage Control and Mateusz Smoczynski with New Trio.

A special exhibition might be the only possibility to see lots of photographs, posters, documents, LP covers, many of which are really rare and some of which come from the family archives of Malgorzata Seifert, Zbigniew's sister.

And if that is not enough, the organizer has prepared a unique postcard devoted to this fantastic artist, so you can not only go and participate in the festival but also let all your friends and relatives know about it.






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