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2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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The closer began with some beautiful bass harmonics and a sound closer to traditional Polish folk music, Garbowski's increasingly earnest support meshing with more prepared piano and gong-like tones from Gradziuk that brought the set to an impressive close.

A brief lunch break gave attendees time to clear their ears before drummer Rafal Gorzycki and electric guitarist Kamil Pater took the stage to perform music from the duo's debut, Therapy (Self Produced, 2013). All-=-improvised, Pater's command of a wide array of guitar effects that included looping, pitch shifting (to create bass lines he then looped for support) and more made the duo sound much larger than it at first appeared. Beginning in a more meditative state, Pater only gradually turned more aggressive, in order to match Gorzycki's more outgoing support.

While he appeared to be channeling Bill Frisell at times, when he turned more angular and jagged, all resemblance ceased as a 7/4 bass line emerged and was looped, allowing Pater the freedom to layer ethereal chord structures that were then also looped. As Gorzycki amped up the energy with a rock-edged pulse, Pawel kicked in overdrive and the set turned more towards a progressive rock vibe. After an impressive drum break, Pawel returned with a drop-D tuning to build a jam of Jimi Hendrixian proportions but with more outré harmonic concerns, as the duo slowly found its way back to the more ethereal quality of its opening and bringing the set to a sudden, unexpected close.

Stryjo followed, a trio consisting of pianist Nikola Koĺodziejczyk, bassist Maciej Szczyciński and drummer Michal Bryndal. What was, perhaps, most surprising about Stryjo was that, while it began as a group performing composed material, it has since largely dispensed with form and gone the route of free improvisation. If the best free improvisation ultimately feels as though there's form—that it is in the pursuit of creating structure out of the ether—then Stryjo's set was an unqualified success. Barring one brief composed passage at the end of its 30-minute set, the music was entirely drawn from the air, yet felt as though it were preplanned. Composing as it went, the communication amongst its members was quite remarkable, as small motifs were picked up and extrapolated upon, coming from anyone in the trio, though it seemed as though Koĺodziejczyk was largely directing where the music went, moving from cascading arpeggios to spare chordal passages with equal aplomb.

It's hard to know if the organizers of Don't Worry! We're From Poland saved the best for last or it just worked out that way, but when the final group of the day hit the stage, charging out of the gate, as fine as the other groups were over the two-day showcase, Maciej Obara International Quartet won out as the group with the greatest potential for international attention. A Polish/Norwegian collaboration, with leader/alto saxophonist Obara joined by fellow Pole, pianist Dominik Wania and, from further north, Scandinavian bassist Ole Morten Vågan (Motif, The Deciders) and drummer Gard NIlssen (Bushman's Revenge, Zanussi Five), the quartet that met at Take Five Europe the previous year had already delivered an impressive set at the 2013 Molde Jazz Festival, and its debut recording, Komeda (Fortune, 2013), has been met with plenty of critical acclaim.

But what a difference six months can make. If Obara's quartet was incendiary in Molde, it was positively nuclear in Wrocĺaw; for those who never had the opportunity to see John Coltrane with his classic quartet in its prime, this may well be the next best thing, as the quartet delivered a set where all four players were 110% committed from the get-go, and never let up. Even when the dynamics dropped, this was a group that understood the value of creating a set—even one as short as this—with a clear narrative arc. In just six months the quartet has come such a long way with respect to interaction and, most importantly, listening. Everyone in the group, other than Obara, has their own projects—Wania's trio one of the finer showings of the day before—but sometimes there's a special chemistry that simply cannot be denied, and as strong as other groups like Bushman's Revenge, Motif and Wania's trio are, both Molde and this short set demonstrated a very special simpatico amongst the players which renders it no surprise that, after a date at Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria in Oslo next March, Maciej Obara International Quartet will enter the studio with Manfred Eicher to record its next album for ECM.

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