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Komeda Project: Bringing New Life to a Legend

By Published: February 23, 2010
While Medyna and Winnicki both have active professional lives, the Komeda Project is clearly very close to their hearts, and their love of Komeda's music is obvious. Does Komeda still hold a place of importance in his native Poland? "I think he is very special to all of us in the old country," Winnicki said. "He was the first Polish musician to approach this music differently. Other Polish musicians were following or imitating, but Komeda, as primarily a composer of movie soundtracks, approached jazz from a different point. His compositions are musical illustrations, and in my opinion, they are therefore always fresh. You can approach these compositions any way you wish, and they will always be up to date. This makes Komeda very special for us and for the musical world generally. And I think the fact that he died, unfortunately very young, contributes to his status as a hero." Medyna interjects: "To the legend, like Monroe. ... By the time I got in touch with Komeda and his music,he was already a kind of legend in Poland; he was already gone. It took me a while to understand this music, specifically Astigmatic. When I first heard that record, I didn't understand what he was doing—I was only about 15 or so. It was over my head. It's not like it was a revelation for me from the get go; it took me a while to really get it."

When Medyna finally did "get it," it was through a process of rediscovery. "At 15 years of age, I put it on the back burner and just moved on. Later on, when jazz fusion was the big thing in Poland, Komeda was still a legend—you had to hear his music no matter what. Even if you didn't understand the music, you were afraid to admit it," Medyna said. "So at that point, I rediscovered it, and this was a sort of an epiphany for me."

In the USA and Europe, Komeda was best known for his film soundtracks, written for movies such as Rosemary's Baby (1968) or The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), both of which were directed by Roman Polanski. In Poland, Komeda's soundtrack work had started some years earlier, as Winnicki pointed out. "He scored something like 40 movies for Polish directors. He is right up there as a composer of film scores, capturing the mood of a movie."

Komeda died in 1969. Almost 40 years later, Medyna and Winnicki formed the Komeda Project. The group's genesis goes back earlier than this, to the re-activation of Breakwater in 2000 as Electric Breakwater and its subsequent release of In the Bush (J-Bird Records, 2000). Medyna put this work into context: "We were playing in the late '90s around New York City and New Jersey. We played pretty often on the fusion scene, but we were witnessing the sad period when fusion died a natural death. One day, we arrived at the Zanzibar Club in Manhattan to play a gig, and we saw the closed door and yellow police tape. Andrzej called the owner, and he said, 'Oh, I sold the club—it's going to be a Chicago blues place.' So we realized that it made no sense to continue to play fusion, and we started to go acoustic and play Komeda material. At first we were still called Electric Breakwater, but we started to play with an upright bass—it was an evolution, not a revolution."

The first lineup under the Komeda Project name arrived in 2004; Crazy Girl was released three years later. The album featured trumpeter Russ Johnson
Russ Johnson
. "We searched for the right trumpet player for a while," Winnicki said. "It was the hardest part of putting the band together—finding an American trumpet player who could perform Komeda's music the way we heard it. We were not looking for someone to imitate Stanko by any means—that's the last thing we would want—but at the same time, we didn't just want someone who played bebop lines."

Kryzstof Komeda AstigmticAccording to the press release at the time of Crazy Girl's release, the tunes were chosen because they were the ones that could best be performed at gigs. The situation was actually a little different, as Winnicki explained: "The tracks that were chosen were simply the tunes that we were already playing live—so it's that way round. We were already a gigging band, and so when we went into the studio, we had already played these tunes live. ... Most of the album was recorded at the first studio date; only one or two tracks from the second session were used." Medyna added one other point: "The first thought was to create a demo disc to get gigs. But after we started to record, we decided that it was too good just to use in that way."

The band's second album, Requiem, is, as Medyna put it, "a totally different story." It's a more accessible recording—"easier on the ears," is how Winnicki described it—while Requiem is "a darker sounding album. The music is darker, full of the religious undertones of Komeda's music. The tunes we selected for the second album are sadder: it's a requiem, it's supposed to be that way," he said. "Crazy Girl is more optimistic."

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