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Irek Wojtczak & The Fonda-Stevens Group: Folk Five

Karl Ackermann By

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The substantial music community in Eastern Europe has a particular affinity for incorporating elements of regional and ethnic music into modern jazz. Gypsy jazz, klezmer and various strains of ethno-fusion have often been combined so that regional influences and free jazz serve as a shared platform, at times addressing political and social causes. For Polish saxophonist and composer Irek Wojtczak, the motivation in combining these contrasting genres is in the dynamic it provides for conveying cultural context in a fresh and updated manner. Though working with a group fronted by two Americans, there couldn't be a better place for Wojtczak to express his creativity than with the long-established Fonda-Stevens Group.

Folk Fve matches Wojtczak with the great bassist Joe Fonda whose work with Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith puts him at the forefront of creative music. Pianist/composer—and group co-founder—Michael Jefry Stevens had worked with the under-recognized Mosaic Sextet whose formation included trumpeter Dave Douglas and Fonda-Stevens Group drummer Harvey Sorgen. Sorgen's history spans Braxton to the eclectic Hot Tuna. The quintet rounds out with the pioneering trumpeter Herb Robertson whose improvisational skills had been established in the company of saxophonist Tim Berne and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra.

"Ale Zagrajze Mi Kowola (Play the Kowal)" open with Sorgen's infectious solo leading to Fonda and Stevens swirling the music around carnival style. Wojtczak enters with a blistering solo, later trading riffs with Robertson. Contrasting sharply is the dirge-like opening of "Cztery Mile Za Warszawa (It Was Four Miles Out of Warsaw)," dominated by Robertson's melancholy playing. "Leczycki (Oberek Dance From Leczycki)" takes another unique turn as the group injects an edgy off-kilter swing theme. Stevens is featured in a beautiful solo on "Pod Gazem (Typsy)" providing some reflection time before the hard bop "Kiej Jo Ide W Pole (When I Go to the Field)" kicks in.

There is a broad multiplicity of styles and tempos throughout Folk Fve from piano-driven ballads like "Weselny (For the Wedding)" to the stylistic mash-up of "Oj Stary Jo se Stary (Oh, Am I Old)." Within that diversity and the democratic use of the musicians there is a surprising consistency to the collection of exuberant pieces played with an appealing mix of unruffled perseverance and surges of abstraction. The Fonda-Stevens Group—and their peripheral colleagues—have been producing unique and adventurous music for a long time and in Wojtczak they have found a partner with a perfectly suited sense of purpose.

Track Listing: Ale Zagrajze Mi Kowola (Play the Kowal); Cztery Mile Za Warszawa (It Was Four Miles Out of Warsaw); Leczycki (Oberek Dance From Leczycki); Pod Gazem (Typsy); Kiej Jo Ide W Pole (When I Go to the Field); Weselny (For the Wedding); Oj Stary Jo se Stary (Oh, Am I Old); Ogrywka.

Personnel: Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; Herb Robertson: trumpet; Harvey Sorgen: drums; Irek Wojtczak: saxophone.

Title: Folk Five | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Fortune Records

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CD/LP/Track Review
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