Crazy Girl by the Komeda Project, a quintet founded by pianist Andrzej Winnicki and saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, is a very exciting project. It aims to bring the music of Krzysztof Komeda, its beauty, emotional intensity and logical yet dramatic structure, to a wider audience.
While the jazz ethos is universal, Komeda's music distills the essence of Poland and pours it into the jazz bottle. Widely acclaimed as one of the prime creators of modern Polish, if not European jazz, Komeda's relatively short career had an enormous impact that is still being felt. . (See the article Polish Jazz for a deeper look into the history of Polish jazz).
The Komeda Project can be viewed as a "fourth generation" version of Komeda's music. The original Komeda recordings are available and enhance the appreciation of the current disc. The single most important record is Astigmatic (Power Bros reissue, 1998); "Kattorna" and "Svantetic" from this disc are on it. The title tune alone, both terrifying and phantasmagoric, is enough to cement Komeda's reputation.
Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, who was in Komeda's original band, represents the "second generation" in his recording Litania - The Music of Krzysztof Komeda(ECM, 1997) and the "third generation" with Lontano (ECM, 2006). The former is an attempt to recreate the original arrangements and improvise within them, while the latter contains a reworking of "Kattorna."
Winnicki and Medyna are joined by trumpeter Russ Johnson (see Save Big) and drummer David Anthony. Crazy Girl consists of six Komeda compositions ("Crazy Girl," "Kattorna," "Ballada," "Svantetic Prelude," "Svantetic" and "Sleep Safe and Warm") and three Winnicki originals. Komeda also wrote the music for a number of Roman Polanski films, and "Sleep Safe and Warm" might be recognized from Rosemary's Baby.
The excitement, energy and the logical yet free structure of Komeda's work is readily apparent in the arrangements and playing. While Winnicki has looked at the scores, these tracks are not meant to be museum pieces, but rather a reaction in the present to the very core of Komeda's music. If you are familiar with any of the earlier generations, the "Komeda-ness" of these performances will be readily apparent. While the overall sound might date the music, labeling it hard bop would be a gross disservice.
Johnson is not trying to sound like Stanko, but rather pours himself into the themes and plays with fire and controlled abandon. Medyna also does not sound like Zbigniew Namyslowski, the original alto saxophonist, but he is extremely exciting and also plays on the edge. Komeda was not a particularly strong piano soloist, but rather controlled the proceedings from his bench; Winnicki straddles the piano's original role with very fine soloing. Anthony and Bates are truly locked and drive the band sharply.
Crazy Girl is a wonderful introduction to the musical world of Krzysztof Komeda, and I can only hope that "Astigmatic" and "Nighttime, Daytime Requiem" will be tackled next. Highly recommended.
Personnel: Russ Johnson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Krzysztof Medyna: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Andrzej Winnicki:
piano; Michael Bates: bass; David Anthony: drums.