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Fertilizer on Tour
Norfolk and Norwich Festival
Norwich Arts Centre
May 13, 2009
Fertilizer, a small-scale London-based festival, has been in existence since 2002, seeking out good music from around the world and showcasing it in a variety of London venues. This year the focus was on contemporary Polish music, and for the first time Fertilizer took part of its program on the road, spreading the sounds to other parts of England: opening night was at the Norwich Arts Centre as part of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
The touring version of Fertilizer features three bands: the Contemporary Noise Sextet (Quintet , Quartet)
, Jacaszek, and Sing Sing Penelope. The show also included a selection of short Polish films played between band sets. Although the bands represented some of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary Polish music, the films, surprisingly, were less concerned with the current Polish scene than with Polish musicians from 20 or 30 years ago. They bore no obvious relationship to the live music, though one or two of them provided a mildly entertaining diversion for spectators while musicians and crew reset the stage between bands.
The Contemporary Noise Sextet played first. They proved the best-received band of the evening, playing an inventive but accessible set that incorporated short bursts of free improvisation between longer, more structured, ensemble passages. The latter were often taken at a slower pace than the free sections, and at timesfor example, on a piece entitled "Nautilus"the collective effect was almost achingly beautiful. Especially enjoyable was the interplay between Tomek Glazic on saxophones (pictured right) and Bartek Kapsa on drums while the band continued to impress with its ability to move seamlessly from hard blowing free jazz to slow, melodic passages. The musicianship of the individual members along with the ensemble's sense of time and responsiveness to rhythmic changes all boded well for a bright future for this group.
Jacaszek presented a sharp contrast to the Contemporary Noise Sextet. Michal Jacaszek, on laptop, was accompanied by a cellist and a violinist. All three musicians sat quietly throughout the set, unsmiling and unmoving. Initially their dreamlike sounds, coupled with a sympathetic and effective light show, created a calm and tranquil atmosphere within the venue, an old church. However, the set's lack of dynamics coupled with the band's apparent detachment from the music assured that many in the audience had drifted to the bar well before Jacaszek finished.
Some of the audience did not return for Sing Sing Penelope's set. Those who remained were treated to a single untitled composition, dominated for the most part by keyboards and drums. Sing Sing Penelope shares 3 musicians with the Contemporary Noise Sextet: Glazic on woodwinds, Wojtec Jachna on trumpet and Patryk Weclawek on bass guitar. However, the absence of the Contemporary Noise Sextet's guitar and the emphasis Sing Sing Penelope placed on organ was enough to differentiate the sounds of two bands. Sing Sing Penelope's set was driven by the organ and a frantic and complex drum style. This difference produced a wilder, more inescapable sound than that of the opening band but it also lost the subtle variations of the Contemporary Noise Sextet's tunes. The sound of Sing Sing Penelope was immediately reminiscent of 1970's progressive rock while the beauty that emerged during the Contemporary Noise Sextet's earlier performance was without comparison.
All three bands offered an insight into the strength of jazz in modern Poland. The influences that have driven these musicians owe as much to the progressive rock of the late 1960s and 1970s and to the ambient sounds of the 1980s as they do to the post-bop jazz of Coltrane or Davis. Past influences aside, on the basis of this showing the future of Polish jazz looks good.