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Euopean Jazz Conference 2016: Polish Jazz Showcases

Ian Patterson By

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The golden era of Polish jazz is now. There is such a profusion of incredible talent. Now is the golden era.” —Pawel Brodowski, Chief Editor Jazz Forum
European Jazz Conference: Polish Jazz Showcases
National Forum Of Music
Wroclaw, Poland
September 22-24, 2016

One of the great things about returning to Poland each time is the exposure to new jazz talent, because beyond the internationally renowned marquee names—the historic Polish greats—are a great number of outstanding artists. How could it be otherwise in a country that boasts over a hundred jazz festivals?

Wroclaw is home to Jazztopad, one of Poland's best-known festivals internationally, which has built its reputation in its first decade on commissioned work as well as on national and international showcases. Jazztopad moved to its new location in the splendid National Forum of Music in 2015, a building of modern design with highly advanced acoustics. The NFM was host to the European Jazz Conference 2016, where 200 members of the European Jazz Network, guests and invited speakers gathered for its annual meeting. Over one weekend, the days were given over to talks and working groups, (see separate article) while the evenings served up a generous sample of some of the best that Polish jazz has to offer.

Polish Jazz Showcase Day 1

Waclaw Zimpel

Usually to be found at the end of a clarinet in a wide-ranging variety of musical settings, from collaborations with Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake, Trilok Gurtu, Evan Ziporyn and Michiyo Yagi, to the southern Indian-inspired ensemble Saagara, Waclaw Zimpel is the epitome of the contemporary musican for whom genres are nothing but restrictions to the imagination.

This solo concert, drawn from the album Lines (Instant Classic, 2016), was structured heavily upon layered keyboard sounds, whose interweaving mantras laid a pulsating yet ethereal canvas for Zimpel's clarinet improvisations. On the opening track, minimalist motifs, undulating drone, recorded ethnic chants and urbane programmed rhythms provided a hypnotic subtext to Zimpel's intermittent, dark-hued bass clarinet soloing for a full thirty minutes.

For "Lines," Zimpel turned to the khaen, a bamboo mouth organ from Laos and Isan/North East region of Thailand. An urgent, chanting organ motif and long bass clarinet lines laid the foundations for keening clarinet improvisations. Like the previous piece, "Lines"' effect was based on repetition and minimal variation, which will have resonated with fans of pioneering minimalists La Monte Young, Terry Reily, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Zimpel remains a restless sonic adventurer and one of the most distinctive voices on the Polish jazz/improvised music scene. This solo project felt like the start of an epic journey, whose main adventures, perhaps, lie ahead.

Aga Derlak Trio

Formed in 2012, the Aga Derlak Trio has won multiple awards in its short career to date, but perhaps most notably the Polish Phonographic Academy's Best Jazz Debut Award for First Thought (Hevhetia, 2015). Derlak has earned glowing praise from legendary Polish saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski and this showcase, which presented Derlak's original compositions from her as yet to be released follow up, gave plenty of evidence of her talents.

Beginning with the dynamic "Suspension" the trio set out its stall with Derlak blurring the lines between the composed and the improvised, her accelerating melodic contours supported by the fulcrum of double bassist Tymon Trabczynski and the brisk industry of drummer Bartosz Szablowski. The heart of the perofrmance featured an uninterrupted three-song suite of sorts, beginning with the spacious ballad "The Word," where a sotto voce bass ostinato and pattering mallets underpinned Derlak's gradually unfurling solo; greater impetus colored "Recovery," with the patient tapestry of Derlak's expansive soloing punctuated by striking percussive accents and oscillating tempos; the adrenaline-charged "Repetitive Dream" saw the trio at its most cohesive, exhibiting a fiery chemistry and a sense of drama that should take this trio far.

Wojcinski/Szmanda Quartet

Poland has a long history of free jazz/improvised music but the current scene, as witnessed in Jazztopad's Concerts in Living Rooms series, is particularly fertile. This quartet, consisting of brothers Maurycy Wojcinski (trumpet), Szymon Wojcinski (piano) and Ksawery Wojcinski (double bass), and drummer Krzystof Szmanda drew from the free tradition, but with a sense of control and nuance more akin to chamber music.

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