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2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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After a brief break for lunch, the showcase continued with a performance by the Dominik Wania Trio. Wania is also a member of the Maciej Obara International Quartet that would close the second day of the showcase, but hearing him in his own trio, performing his arrangements of music from his most recent album, Ravel (Fortune, 2013), revealed a very different side to the pianist, whose trio consisted of bassist Max Mucha and drummer Dawid Fortuna. That two showcases based on classical composers took place back-to-back identified an important distinction about young European jazz musicians, many of whom were classically trained first, and became jazz musicians later.

But neither Masecki or Wania took part in any kind of hokey "jazzin' up the classics," to which Piotr Turkiewicz referred to in his interview; in Wania's case (as was true with Masecki), this was a deep reconstruction, sourced from a classical composer who, born in 1875 and dying in 1937, was alive during the inception of jazz and was self-admittedly a fan of the music, not unlike Claude Debussy who, living roughly around the same time, was equally inspired by jazz, something easily heard in pianist Alexei Lubimov's Claude Debussy: Préludes (ECM, 2012). Both Masecki and Wania demonstrated a fundamental difference between many North American jazz musicians and those from Europe and other countries: the Great American Songbook may have been imprinted in the DNA of the American musicians, but for many Europeans, this music is simply foreign. They study it, and learn to play it with some credibility, but if the adage applied to writers, "Write what you know" is appropriate to musicians, then it's hardly odd that a musician like Wania would take the music of a seminal influence and find ways to bring it into the jazz vernacular.

Like Masecki, Wania proved a player capable of some real muscle, but even as Mucha and Fortuna provided unshakable support, the pianist also demonstrated a lighter touch at times, a delicacy and elegance that clearly reflected his music's source.

The day's final showcase featured a group, HERA, that's been together longer than the other ensembles heard that day. The group's latest album featured a special guest in American drummer Hamid Drake, though on Seven Lines (Multikulti, 2013) he's heard solely on frame drum and vocals. Even without Drake, HERA is a larger group than the quartet featured at the showcase—clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, saxophonist Pawel Postaremczak, double bassist Ksawery Wójciński and drummer Pawel Szpura; missing were guitarist Raphael Rogiński and Hurdy-Gurdy player Maciek Cierliński, and the lack of chordal instruments significantly altered the group's complexion.

Still, it was in intriguing performance, with Zimpel opening the set alone, playing two wooden flutes simultaneously. Wójciński gradually introduced a pedal tone while Szpura worked solely with a frame drum until Postaremczak entered on soprano saxophone, his tone very much a reflection of the nasally, Indo-centric school of John Coltrane. The whole set was, in fact, redolent of Coltrane's later period, where a tumultuous cacophony of bass and drums built the intensity, setting the stage for Zimpel's switch, first to clarinet and then harmonica, his two-chord pattern settling the entire band down into a modal exploration that acted as a tremendous release from the tension built up during the earlier part of the set. Zimpel proved capable of switching from vicious to beautiful at the drop of a hat, but when he turned to bass clarinet the music began to build again, with Postaremczak switching to tenor and, at first, layering softer tonalities but then building to more angular extremes. Wójciński soloed rarely, but when he did, it was impressive.

The group played one track from Seven Lines and it was surprisingly mellow and melodic. But overall, this is a group that, based on its showcase, leans towards harder surfaces rather than softer veneers, and sharper angles instead of rounded edges. Still, it also demonstrated a welcome allegiance to dynamics, which gave the set a defined (and welcome) shape and clear beginning, middle and end.

After an early evening dinner, guests arrived late to the Mleczarnia Café, where Melting Pot: Made in Wrocĺaw was already underway. A dark basement club with brick walls and, along with the seven musicians squeezed onto the small stage—including trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, clarinetist Matreusz Rybicki, video artist Tukasz Wasyliszyn, drummer Fabian Jung, electronics artist Søren Lyngsø Knudsen, guitarist and electronics manipulator Shane Latimer, and special guest Michiyo Yagi (with only one koto on hand)—Stanislaw Szumski could be seen to the left of the stage, painting along to the music being created in the moment onstage.

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