Tribute bands, for better or worse, are increasingly setting the tone for the jazz scene. But a tribute band dedicated to an artist outside the American hegemonic sphere is unusual, and even more so when the focus is on a musician best known as a film composer. Yet Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969) is a deserving figure, and his work back in the 1960s played an important role in establishing the European jazz aesthetic that has spawned so many later bands and recordings. As a follow-up to their 2007 CD Crazy Girl
the Komeda Project has returned with Requiem
, and here they present a composition drawn from the score for the Roman Polanski film Knife in the Water
. The piece is a languorous ballad in a Strayhorn-esque vein, and Russ Johnson steps to the fore on this track with a moody solo that extends the mood of the written melody. Even so, I found myself paying more attention to the rhythm section, and in particular Nasheet Waits, who manage to maintain the emotional temperature of Komeda's work, while instilling some sweet momentum on a chart that could easily drift away into the clouds.
The wedding is getting out of control. You have had too much ?ubrówka vodka, and even though you cut the last one with apple juice—the bartender called it szarlotka
—the world around you starts to blur. The band is playing a crazy 6/8 number, the string instruments and voices in some drawn-out battle for supremacy. The words seem shouted rather than sung, or maybe it's a fight breaking out by the bandstand. You head toward the noise, but before you get there a girl in a peasant dress and intense hazel-colored eyes grabs you by the hand and pulls you into a dance. You can hardly stand, so how can you even think of mastering these movements. The voices have dropped out now, and the strings come together in a throbbing repetitive vamp, devilish music for a migraine mazurka. Somehow you fall into the proper steps—or maybe you just make up your own. This song seems to have taken up permanent residency inside your head, and you want to ask the girl in the peasant dress what the words mean—the singers have started shouting again—but your partner has gone. The music has subsided but it continues to play on in your memory. You have a hunch that this melody will stay with you for the next few days, unless you can kill it with something stronger. You turn toward the bar, in quest for another glass of ?ubrówka. This time, you will take it straight.
On their preceding record for ECM, they were simply called The Trio. Now the three young Poles who first gained international attention as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's rhythm section have evolved to become the pianist's group. He obviously is the main composer on this record, though half of the tunes were penned by Carla Bley, Ennio Morricone or Prince. This shows The Trio's wide-ranging influences, borrowing like most jazz musicians of their generation from both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the former Iron Curtain. It also shows their ability to drag any tune they like, be it jazz or pop, into the orb of an aesthetic defined during several years of playing together. In this respect, they are still essentially a cooperative trio, as attested by their distinctive sound and interplay. What's more, with a repertoire from both the old and new continents, they elected to record in New York – apparently showing they are unconcerned with the USA vs. European jazz issue that has often attached to recent ECM productions.
What do you play after Kind of Blue
? It seems to consume the space before and after it, diminishing anything that follows. Here is one answer. Stanko had been mentoring a talented trio of teenagers through the 1990s and when they became his regular working group in 2000 they so perfectly complimented his musical vision that the sublime Soul of Things
represents the trumpeter’s most complete artistic statement to date. Stanko says he’s played the same tune all his life, but this album’s set of thirteen variations condense a lifetime’s deeply felt emotion into a compelling series of vignettes that haunt the memory long after the music has finished.
Long regarded as a bona fide pioneer of European jazz, Komeda’s day job until his death in 1969 was writing music for films, in which capacity he was closely associated with Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water
, Rosemary’s Baby
has become a bellwether for European jazz, with critics pointing to how this album marked a shift away from the dominant American approach with the emergence of a specific European aesthetic. In terms of structure (ad hoc song forms that had a lot to do with Komeda’s film writing), its improvisational and rhythmic approach, Astigmatic
represents a fresh approach and a different way of hearing and playing jazz.
Stanko’s quartet shows its mastery of tone colors and sound textures in this 13-minute collective improvisation from the 2006 ECM release Lontano
. The piece starts in a free tempo, rich in nuance and indirection, and only at the end coalesces into strict time. For comparison, the CD release
also includes the 15-minute “Lontano II” and the 12-minute “Lontano III” – each providing eloquent testimony to the rapport of this outstanding ensemble.
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