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2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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This international collaboration—with Latimer from Ireland, Knudsen from Denmark, Jung from Germany and, of course, Yagi from Japan—was intended as a project created in the framework of Wrocĺaw's having been awarded European Capital of Culture designation for 2016. With the other musicians all from Wrocĺaw, it seems a fine start to an event that, as it has in cities like Tallinn (Estonia) and Stavanger (Norway), has encouraged not just a focus on the vibrant arts scene in its own locale, but on international collaborations to help bring the music of its country to the world. While the crowded club made it a touch difficult to hear properly, and sight lines were not particularly good, it was clear that Melting Pot: Made in Wrocĺaw is a project that, as it continues to evolve towards 2016, will continue to bear creative fruit as yet another project for the increasingly ubiquitous Damasiewicz.

That jazz, at least in Wrocĺaw, was still happening in dank, dark basement clubs—the only thing missing was the smoke, and despite an overall "no smoking" law, there were still some places where smoking was permitted, just not here—was encouraging in a strange kind of way. With most folks used to jazz taking place in the pristine confines of concert halls, theatres and large outdoor venues, there's a certain intimacy that's been lost. And while Jazztopad's larger shows did, indeed, take place at larger venues like the Wrocĺaw Philharmonic Hall, it was still encouraging to see at least some of the music taking place in venues where, during breaks, the artists and fans were able to interact.

Friday, November 22: Don't Panic! We're From Poland Part 2 / Sixth Sense / Chiri

The second day of the Don't Panic! We're From Poland jazz showcase was even busier than the first, with five bands instead of four. The morning opened up with Flesh Machine, a clarinet trio featuring Mateusz Rybicki (back from Melting Pot, the evening before), bassist Zbigniew Kozera and drummer Wojciech Romanowski.

Rybicki is clearly someone to watch; his tone ranging from earthy, woody and beautiful to harsher extremes, sometimes in the confines of the same tune. His opening a cappella solo on bass clarinet was an example of the former; when bass and drums entered, in particular with Romanowski's delicate ride cymbal, it was the kind of music that could easily fit within the sphere of ECM's discography, even as things turned more intense, pushing towards a faster swing that ended abruptly-and unexpectedly.

Rybicki utilized a number of extended techniques, as did Kozera, with a stick at one point interlaced between his four strings (not unlike Michiyo Yagi's similar preparation with her koto). A soft ostinato dissolved into a clarinet solo (again, alone), only to resolve once again as a trio outing as Rybicki cascaded and soared. A third piece possessed a delicate pulse bolstered by Romanowski's more fervent support, which created a terrific tension amidst the trio, only to resolve to an amiable swing, while the set closer was a "time, no changes" excursion into relentless free play from a trio that clearly demonstrated no shortage of potential.

RGG followed. A piano trio that's got a number of releases under its belt, it's the trio's latest, Szymanowski (Fonografika, 2013), devoted largely to the compositions of Karol Szymanowski, the most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20th century, that was the source for its showcase performance. Beyond its underlying concept, Szymanowski also represented a significant lineup change, with pianist Ĺukasz Odjana coming aboard to join longtime bassist Maciej Garbowski and drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk.

Originally a student but now a collaborator with teacher Anders Jormin, Garbowski demonstrated certain techniques associated with the Swedish bassist, like plucking the strings behind his left hand on the neck. Still, while there were some unavoidable comparisons, Garbowski has clearly honed his own voice, in particular when playing with a bow.

Again, very much coming out of the ECM school, RGG's approach was largely delicate and space-filled, taking plenty of time to allow its music to unfold gently and delicately. A second piece, however, demonstrated greater breadth as Gradziuk drove the piece more fervently, his drum solo leading to a piece reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet" of the 1970s, with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. A third piece was freer still, with Odjana spending most of his time inside the piano box, utilizing a number of preparations that were supported by hand percussion and arco bass; free it may have seemed, but there remained an underlying structure that drove its overall context.

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