A petite blond jazz beauty from Poland, Anna Maria Jopek's first US show at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan was a study in Rembrandt tones and Rubenesque angelic tints, with a touch of samba thrown in. Known as Anya to her 20-something fans and the musicians that know her well like Sting and Pat Metheny, the show was in Polish, but her paintbrush was love in all its colors, a human condition that blows away nationality when wielded by a true hand.
Classically trained at the Manhattan School of Music and Academy of Music in Warsaw, Jopek's lineage was clear in her on-the- spot execution and dexterity of technique, but demonstrated some graceful jazz shadings. A feathery soprano with a unique timbre, she can lull you into an illusion of silky easiness, nothing too trying, but then surprise you with a dark intensity. "Tam, Gdie Nie Siega Wzrok," "Where the Sight Cannot Reach," a cover of a Pat Metheny song, "Follow Me" that she recorded with Metheny, was a joyous anthem that sparkled with a choir-like luster, but her expressiveness was revealed in "Don't Speak," a ballad sung in English, a poignant portrait tinted the colors of falling winter dusk.
Directing her music to her Polish audience, Jopek spent the rest of the evening with traditional folks songs intermixed among some complicated jazz rhythms and two danceable sambas for which she or her husband, Marcin Krydynski, wrote lyrics or created unique arrangements. She also sang quite a few songs from Upojenie, translated as rapture or obsession, the album she recorded with Metheny. This album has sold over 100,000 worldwide and is a cult hit among the college crowd for good reason. A subtly bewitching collaboration, Metheny's buoyancy is tempered by the existentialism of the Polish spirit and Jopek moves through the work from bright to dark angel. "Czarne Slowa," "Black Words," also performed this evening, was particularly evocative and eerie.
Her band brought intensity to the stage not only with their expressive depth but also with their skill of instrumentality and technique. One of the guitarists, Piotr Nazaruk, amazed everyone, was he born with one in his hand? Meditative and intuitive on the acoustic in one moment and intensely focused on the electric bass in the next, this young man provided both a formidable backbone and accessory to the music but did not overshadow his colleagues. The keyboardist clearly cut his teeth on Debussy and gave an Impressionist brush to the color of the music; the saxophonist, on both soprano and alto, could blow a delicate, dancing line, and yet tell the truth with an essay into gritty blues. These five musicians brought a synchronous, driving feel to the music, a perfect counterpoint to Jopek's ethereal style.
She's opened for Sting in Europe, performed with Joe Lovano, and four of her albums have gone gold or platinum in Poland. Testing the waters here in the US, she played Michigan followed by two shows in Chicago accompanied by rumors of an album release here in the States. Whether this is Upojenie or a new work remains to be seen. Universal Music and Nonesuch Records, Jopek and Metheny's record labels respectively, may be missing out on a widely appealing release here, particularly if an English translation of the lyrics is included, Krydynski's lyrics are an intriguing window into the Polish psyche. Despite the traditional cultural divide between European and American jazz artists, a new release here sung in English would not be a waste of her time or ours in listening. The horizon holds much promise for Jopek, while she does not stray into new territory, she lends a chiaroscuro quality to her music that really pops.