Jazztopad 2015

Jazztopad 2015
Henning Bolte BY

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National Music Forum
Jazztopad 2015
Wroclaw, Poland
November 21-25, 2015

The city of Wroclaw by the Odra River in the southwest of Poland has occupied a pre-eminent position throughout its long, turbulent history, and it still does. Wroclaw's Jazztopad festival is a relatively young one. This year celebrated had its 12th edition. The first things to mention are the Wroclaw C's: a brand-new concert hall and its context, commissions and collaborations, one (vertical) chain of concerts, artistic choices/challenging the audience, connecting senses/disciplines, (Wroclaw as the European) capital of culture 2016.

The Wroclaw C's: the new NFM concert building and its context

For the first time the festival took place just months before the opening of the brand-new concert hall of the National Music Forum (NFM). To ensure the highest acoustic standards, this five-story building (2 stories underground and 3 stories on ground level) was designed by Artec, a Design and Planning Service for Performing Art Facilities in New York. APA Kurylowicz & Associates, an architectural firm with offices in Wroclaw and Warsaw, was contracted for the building work. The building hosts an 1,800-capacity concert hall, three chamber halls, rehearsal rooms, conference and office spaces, a recording studio, exhibition area, and an underground car park. The building and area will adopt a significant and impressive public function in town. According to Andrzej Kosendiak, director of NFM, its name "refers to 100 year old plans to set up an Arts Forum in the place where national and military celebrations were held. The location was called the Royal Forum (it housed the palace of the King of Prussia). Today we wish the Music Forum's name would stand for the space providing room for the performance of works of different epochs, a true dialogue, and artistic disputes on contemporary art."

When establishing places and buildings like this, the design, construction, and functional specifications are issues to deal with. Still more important is to ensure that the projected function(s) can actually be fulfilled successfully in terms of the necessary financial means and a dedicated audience.

According to director Kosendiak NFM will have the necessary financial means and above all has been engaged during the last few years to build a rich, stimulating context, required for the growth of an interested and engaged visiting audience. Educational programs were organized as well as musical performances in schools, hospitals, and living rooms. In addition, music schools were established and choirs were formed. Ten years ago there was no school choir in Wroclaw. Today there are more than 40, all thanks to NFM's work. NFM has set up the Singing Poland project to form choirs across the whole of Poland. More than 400 school choirs were formed, three new music schools founded, and many music teachers have been trained through a special in-service training program.

Wroclaw C's: commissions, collaborations, artistic choices

The nature of the festival is contained in the premieres of works commissioned each year: works of world-renowned musicians performed by musicians of the 10 ensembles of the National Forum of Music, the organizer of the festival. Jazztopad is a vertical one-chain or one-stream festival that presents as many special tailor-made concerts as possible. The festival is characterized by a well-chosen, artistically motivated and reflected programming. First of all there were the commissions, one for Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier, and one for Anders Jormin.

The collaborations form another important festival constituent. Jazztopad has organized many collaborations throughout the years, such as JazzPlaysEurope, Take Five Europe, and the laboratory Melting Pot Made In Wroclaw—all with young, up-and-coming musicians from different (European) countries.

There were special temporary combinations of musicians, like in the tribute to Kenny Wheeler concert and the Melting Pot laboratory. The festival also offered especially augmented groups like Whahay, Red Trio, Trio Draksler/Santos Silva/Zetterberg, as well as premieres of groups like the new line-up of Anthony Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Quintet, with two harps, and Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel's Saagara, with Indian instruments and musicians. These combinations do not only sharpen and enhance the artistic profile of the festival, but also offer its audience something unique not put together from the catalogue.

Wroclaw C's: challenging the audience, connecting senses/disciplines, Capital of Culture

Jazztopad has always challenged its audience on a profound basis and continues to do so—with beneficial consequences. Contrary to widespread belief, it just seems to increase the attractiveness of the festival's activities, the dedication of the audience, and the number of visitors.

Connecting senses/disciplines is part of the challenge. Jazz and improvised music as an art form in particular are intimately connected, especially through photography. Jazz was the forerunner before pop-and rock music took over. Generations of jazz aficionados heard what they saw on the famous iconographic photographs of jazz musicians. The iconography of jazz had and still has a strong influence on the perception of the genre. You could even say that jazz was and still is a highly image-guided art form. At every concert nowadays—no matter its size—you can experience how the guiding models are still emulated.

A different discipline is the art of drawing that is -amongst others—slower and less dependent on actual physical data, and more transformative. And then there is the tradition of drawing jazz events, although this is a less dominant tradition. Creation and perception work in a different way. In recent years, visual artists gained more ground and appreciation with their drawings of jazz events. Last year Jazztopad embedded Lena Czerniawska in the working process of Jazztopad Melting Pot, and this year Jazztopad exhibited her sketchbooks. The sketchbooks were exhibited near the concert areas in the NFM concert building. The young generation of artists is especially interested in the improvisational element of both disciplines, music and visual arts, as a double input and challenge. This year Agnieszka Kabath and Paweł Kiliński were involved in Melting Pot, as documentary makers.

Next year Jazztopad will be part of the European Capital of Culture 2016, together with San Sebastian in Spain. The dense bundling of these components, the interrelatedness of these constituents, may be considered innovative, adventurous and quite unique in the landscape of European jazz festivals.


This year's opener was a tribute to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (1930-1914) who passed away a year ago. The tribute was paid by 13 fellow musicians and (close, longstanding) collaborators, mainly British, in various configurations. They represented the variety and range Wheeler worked in/with. For artistic director Turkiewicz this coproduction with the EFG London Jazz Festival had a highly personal and professional significance. He himself found his way into jazz through the music of Kenny Wheeler and Wheeler was the first musician he ever invited to Jazztopad when he started his work as a director. Wheeler did not reach out on his instrument. His long, efflorescencing glides, bold leaps, and affecting breaking lines permeated all spaces, melting into them. He had the rare gift of sparking openness through beauty, and vice versa. Listening to it could become addictive.

There are few musicians in modern jazz whose characteristic voices and sounds were as inspirational and influential as Kenny Wheeler's. Few are respected like him, across generations, styles, and approaches. In concordance with this special kind of charisma, the subgroups not only performed his pieces, but also pieces about or for him, and inspired by him.

It seems he was quite maladroit and always up to involuntarily slapstick. According to his longstanding close fellows, he was quite shy, or better, as Evan Parker emphasized, shy and brave in some extraordinary combination. He was mainly HIS SOUND in this world, on his instrument. There are lots of tall tales to tell of other musicians, especially trumpeters, but not of Kenny Wheeler. We do have the sound that offers us the chance to discover ourselves, our own story. We should be grateful for that, although it seems quite senseless to stylize him for that.

Something similar came to the fore in the narratives of his fellow musicians, the way they said they dealt with his material, his scores, his composition. Wheeler never imposed something on another person, never dominated. According to his fellows there were people who could interpret his (minimal) gestures (or smiles) and determine what had to be done to make it work.

The tribute was a concert in three parts, sometimes with subparts. There was the dedicated 'big' subgroup of Henry Lowther (trumpet), Pete Hurt (saxophone), John Parricelli (guitar) Gwilym Simcock (piano), Chris Laurence (double bass), Martin France (drums), which marvelously presented well-known ensemble pieces of Wheeler, such as "The Long Wait." Then there was the purely improvisational group in the middle and a sequence of different combinations in the third division, all engineered by soundman Bill Strode. It was also an acid test for the sound of the new hall. The sound presence was extraordinary and very natural. We enjoyed the performances in chairs with a lot of comfort and leg space.

The quartet of saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Steve Berresford, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo entered an open improvisation from scratch. The foursome started uncommonly gentle, almost whispering like the wind, gradually reaching higher density, velocity and cumulating dynamics. Wheeler and Parker, also from a younger generation, met and played together in the seminal free(d) sessions of the ensemble of legendary percussionist John Stevens (1940-1994), together with the likes of John Taylor, Derek Bailey, and Barry Guy.

A highlight was the performance of master musician Ralph Towner on acoustic guitar. Towner does not perform at festivals in combinations like those in Wroclaw very often. He played solo, in duo with singer Norma Winstone (also on piano), and in trio with bassist Dave Holland and Norma Winston. It was as joyful and playful as it was beguiling. Winston played intimate duos and trios with Towner, with Holland and with pianist Gwilym Simcock. All were a testimony of Wheeler's far-reaching influence on his fellow musicians.

Dave Holland described how he, as a young musician, was confronted with Wheeler's, in those days, unorthodox approach to and dealing with harmonics, how he learned to figure things out and find the note's place—a formative experience for him "with these beautiful melodies with complex harmonies underneath." Singer Norma Winston, who is from a generation in between that of Wheeler and Holland, explained with typically English understatement that she sang what was written, but Wheeler often played it slightly different so that she had to find the place too. Holland and Winston's intimate duo playing was an almost English homely affair without any staging or filters. Together Simcock, Holland, and drummer Martin France performed Holland's "Waltz For Wheeler" with some outstanding melodic bass playing by Dave Holland. In the end only (a recording of) the lonely, beautiful trumpet of Kenny Wheeler sounded in the new hall of the National Forum of Music with its impressing acoustics.

WHAHAY is the British-French trio of bassist Paul Rogers, reedist Robin Fincker, and drummer Paul Rogers/Robin Fincker/Fabien Duscombs. Rogers with his custom-made, unmistakable 7-string contrabass is unescapably condemned to traveling with his big fiddle. When he arrives on stage, he has already accomplished a heavy task.

The trio, augmented by two remarkable French musicians, pianist Christine Wodraschka and guitarist Jean-Yves Evrard, both long time collaborators, performed mainly pieces of Charles Mingus, that can be found on WHAHAY's latest album. Christine Wodraschka and Jean-Yves Evrard both are uncompromising and sharp improvisers in the vein of Misha Mengelberg and Evan Parker who added a strong and angular note to the music. Wodraschka combines great clearness of touch and tone with a rough percussive attack, whereas Evrad acts like a scurrying ghost, strumming his instrument almost accidentally. This wild bunch from Gallia Transalpina, with its fierce energy and unstoppable dynamics, pulled the Mingus wool through the comb and let the Red Hall (Sala Czerwona) tremble starkly. Even when the music in the second half seemed to get lost in particularities of raw strange sounds and fall apart, the group succeeded in returning to the stormy side and let the wind blow full of grunge intensity and truthful dedication.


Melting Pot, part of Jazztopad Festival and now at its 7th edition, is a collaborative space for curiosity and inquisitiveness to manifest itself in exploration and experimentation. It will be part of the Wroclaw program during the European Capital of Culture program in 2016 (Wroclaw partners with San Sebastian).

For a couple of days trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and guitarist Igor Gawlikowski from Poland, vocalist Mette Marie Ørnstrup from Denmark, pianist Michael Reis from Luxemburg, bassist Caspar van Meel from Germany, and drummer Simon Segers of Belgian group De Beren Gieren, worked together with Ewa Staroń, Joanna Potkowska, Kaja Osóbka, Agnieszka Durzyńska, four young dancers of the Dance Factory of Wroclaw. They prepared a performance for the huge foyer space of Wroclaw's brand-new concert hall of the National Forum of Music. A dreamlike atmosphere emerged from their unfolding joint performance. This group of performers, musicians, and dancers followed a path beyond stylistic and other demands. They just did the necessary and beneficial, musically, choreographically, concerning gestures and countenance. Through these musicians' actions, the performing space and audience's attention reached a higher degree of unity—no small achievement for a group whose members did not know one another at the beginning of the process. The performance was more than just a workshop presentation. It realized a real artistic appeal and expressiveness.

Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier with NFM string players

Sunday evening was reserved for the premiere of the first commissioned work of this year's edition: the "Super Slab Multiverse" composition by Mark Feldman, written for string quartet and piano, and a new arrangement for "Lazuline" by Sylvie Courvoisier, for piano and three violins.

The duo of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier has been a mainstay during the last decade, as one of the most remarkable, unique and endurable units in the field of improvised music. It pairs an extraordinary quality of compositional groundwork with sharpness and urgency of performance in which this groundwork takes shape every single time through great momentum and surprise. The music of Feldman and Courvoisier is multi-motivic, proceeding and unfolding through recurrently emerging and alternating motives, bold leaps and rhythmically sophisticated, explosive configurations, all driven by an underlying and overarching dramaturgy and musical unity that captures and ignites the listener's imagination.

The concert opened with duo pieces by Courvoisier and Feldman: "For Alice," a piece dedicated to Alice Coltrane (album Hotel du Nord), "Orpheus and Eurydice," the compelling "Five Senses Of Keen"(album To Fly To Steal, Live at Théatre Vidy), and "Corto" (album Double Windsor). Even to those familiar with these pieces the work sounded fresh and fiery, with great new nuances and turns, especially the speedy clatter originating from a preparation of piano strings. Courvoisier uses the techniques and sounds in a concise and musically highly significant and original way. "For Alice" started with a longer extemporization on piano and was performed in high tempo throughout, which gave a totally different shining to the piece with its wonderful harp emulations on the piano strings and its well-dosed Indian flavors on Feldman's violin.

The duo as usual created an accumulation of complex tonal figures abstracted from various sources. These figures might be regarded pieces in their own right, pieces in a piece. They are constructed in a way that allows these elements to be twisted and highlighted in different ways—like the rhythmically strong piece "Corto"—without loosing their basic character. Though sometimes you may recognize some snippets, they always feel like utterly genuine creations, far from the more usual and dominant theme-variation-structures. They are more like movie-cuts and could even be regarded as a kind of highly sophisticated acoustic sampling. Sometimes they sounded like music concrète and very often also tones and tone configuration were 'just happening' like nature's sounds.

The duo was a delightful upbeat to the two commission pieces performed together with Marcin Markowicz and Jan Mazur (violin), Michał Micker (viola), Maciej Młodawski (violoncello), string players of the NFM Symphony Orchestra. Marcin Markowicz and Maciej Młodawski are also members of the prestigious Lutoslawski Quartet, one of the ten ensembles connected to the NFM. It started with Courvoisier's piece "Lazuline" in a new arrangement for piano and three violins (Feldman, Markowicz, Mazur). "Lazuline" was premiered 2010 in Lausanne (Theatre de Vidy). The piece had a hyper-quiet start on the edge of hearable sound and just for that reason raised awareness for clearly discernible and beautifully moving contours. This was achieved by the string players' use of extended bowing techniques and Courvoisier's gentle stroking of the piano strings. The second part opened with a fortissimo motivic signal of Courvoisier's piano and moved into stark contrast with the initial part, first through unison playing of the strings, then through shifting and layering. The last part returned to the soft and quiet mode, yet this time by lively playing around each other and the motif. It was a great pleasure to experience the technically accomplished classical musicians acting eagerly and joyfully within the given leeway. Hopefully this music will find its way to an album as other commission work has done before.

Apparently for both parties this collaboration was attractive, motivating and joyful. Feldman and Courvoisier very much appreciated the skill and the devotion of their 'classical guests.' The 'classical guests' were enthusiastic over the room to move they experienced and the freedom to find their adequate expression. It could be sensed in the performance as the crucial difference quality compared to more academic performance practice and routines.

Finally Feldman's new piece "Super Slab Multiverse" performed by Feldman himself, the String Quartet of Marcin Markowicz (vln), Michał Micker (viola) and Maciej Młodawski (vcl), and Sylvie Courvoisier on piano experienced its premiere. The big interstate highways in the United States of America are called Super Slabs. A Super Slab Multiverse therefore must be a big inter-universal highway connecting the alternating/parallel universes of a comprising meta-universe. With its multiple faces, fascinating blend of sound qualities, tide movements, accelerations, and attracting complexity, this piece became the enchanting apotheosis of the evening. Many of the elements and characteristics of the pieces heard before reappeared, and were integrated on a high(er) level.


Where is the monkey? Who is the donkey? French duo Donkey Monkey is quite popular at European festivals at the moment. These two women have a good show, meaning they present more challenging music in a light, humorous way, with some hilarious absurdist talk that fits in wonderfully with their way of making music. Donkey Monkey are pianist Eve Risser and drummer Yuko Oshima. They do this narrative thing almost parenthetically, but with dedication. A key piece of the duo's show is Carla Bley's "Can't Get My Motor To Start" from Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason's album Fictious Sports (Columbia 1981). Also, the piece "Hanaka" works utterly hilariously and has 1000+1 variations. This kind of humor, spread through the concert as a vehicle to lure the audience into the music, is a typically French trait that is still quite underdeveloped in the jazz field. Hopefully Risser/Oshima can ignite it and keep developing their repertoire. Donkey Monkey was presented as part of the "Jazz Migration" series established by Association Jazz Croise (AJC) to support the professional development of new jazz groups.

The second group of the evening was a trio of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler with Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and Swedish contrabassist Torbjörn Zetterberg. This trio, formed by the two duos of Draksler/Santos Silva and Santos Silva/Zetterberg, premiered at Jazztopad. Both duos are already established ones and both having a recording under their belts, on the Clean Feed label (the recent Draksler/Santos Silva, This Love (Clean Feed (2015) and Santos Silva/Zetterberg, Almost Tomorrow (Clean Feed (2013)). Both young women have already distinguished themselves in the European scene and are involved in a couple of profiled international groups. Zetterberg (1976) is a core-musician of the Swedish jazz scene and as such involved in numerous groups and projects and as leader of the ensemble Den Stora Frågan with trombonist Mats Äleklint Quartet, trumpeter Santos Silva, saxophonists Jonas Kullhammar and Alberto Pinton, as well as Swedish drummer Jon Fält.

The musicians built their own space and to a great extent created new music in real time. They took time to genetically develop something original, a modus operandi that did not differ from that of the two duos. They dug up a lot of attractive and challenging elements as work in progress including Draksler's artful whistling as an extra instrumental part. It was brave to solely rely on extemporization, although more contrast might have been beneficiary. With the potential of the trio, it seems a fermentation process could lead into more specific, untouched territory. In any case, Monday appeared to be a nearly all-female evening with Zetterberg as the only rooster in the yard.


Tuesday first presented two Polish groups, the RGG Trio and Sphere, both orientating and relying on the Baltic-Scandinavian axis, and then the internationally established Red Trio from Lisbon, this time extended to a quintet by two Wroclawian top musicians, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz , and saxophonist Gerard Lebik.

RGG Trio, founded in 2001, comprising pianist Łukasz Ojdana, bassist Maciej Garbowski, and percussionist Krzysztof Gradziuk, has recorded seven albums since the Trio's birth. This piano trio had a clear signature able to unify a wider range of heterogeneous material by way of its very own approach and its way of playing. It created dreamy open spaces and conjured beautiful moods of solitude. It sparked some magic through its sophisticated ability to deal with space and rhythm, systematically but also in an aleatory way by some great percussion.

The Sphere trio is a non-hierarchical trio formed by vocalist Ania Rybacka, guitarist Marek Kądziela, and clarinetist Kuba Dybżyński. It has recently released its debut album Synaestesia (Hevhetia 2014). The threesome operated closely together within a smaller tonal range with voice, clarinet, Frisellian guitar—often as one confluent stream, additionally supported by live-electronics and sampling. This is how the three musicians created a special, delicate sound they used almost throughout. Vocalist Ania Rybacka deviated from that sometimes in her solo-parts that she executed convincingly by sampling her own vocal input. In the long run this kind of confluence had a blading effect. Some listeners like just that while others long for more contrast.

The extended Red Trio with the two Wroclawian musicians trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and saxophonist Gerard Lebik, finished its Poland/Norway fall tour at Jazztopad. The Lisbon Trio, founded in 2007, comprises bassist Gabriel Ferrandini, drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro. The trio has been collaborating intensely with British saxophonist John Butcher, Swedish vibraphonist Mathias Ståhl, and more recently with the two Wroclawian musicians trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and saxophonist Gerard Lebik. Damasiewicz has been involved frequently in Jazztopad last years and same as Lebik is connected to an extended European network of improvised music.

As a real time creation unit all of Red Trio's music is created on the spot, through extemporization. With its mobile triangulation points, the trio's music oscillates between subtleness and violent outbursts, whispers, and hissing swirls. With the two horn players from Wroclaw the music intensified exponentially and experienced the emergence of energy, the evocation of transitions, and the balance of process and outcome.

The quintet's performance became a dense and powerful high fly fueled as it were by the salt and waves of the roaring seas, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Baltic Sea. They alternated between crescendo horn parts, sounds of blowing winds, icy clarion calls, hymnal parts and sound expansion in the mode of The Necks, deep grooves cruising mostly along exciting unknown passages. Combined, the three Lisbon musicians and two Wroclaw musicians revealed themselves as a powerful and productive match, transporting Red Trio's music to a higher level. With its intensity, coherence, and potency the quintet's performance stood out as a festival highlight hitherto.


Wednesday revolved around Polish musicians and groups: the Paweł Niewiadomski Quartet, Tomasz Dąbrowski's FREE4ARTS quartet, a solo performance of pianist Marcin Masecki, and the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet.

Trombonist Paweł Niewiadomski contributed to various albums on well known Polish record label For Tune with Power Of The Horns and Orange The Juice. He opened with his quartet comprising saxophonist Skowronski Kuba, bassist Ksawery Wójciński, and drummer Wojtek Romanarski. The group played loosely, rubato, floating and surging with a good feel of swing underneath, showing what you can make from a simple starting point. The group accomplished this with great versatility and skilled soloing. The musicians seemed to be fully satisfied with unfolding this along the same standard procedure time after time. It was excellently crafted, but no real attempts were made to throw in stronger expression or significance.

Trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski, who already performed with his Danish Tom Trio in the Polish program of Jazztopad last year, is a first-class harmolodic raconteur, movably spinning his longer narrative lines with a strong earthy tone, a voice-like sound, and pointed articulation; a quite active musician to have your eye on. This year Dąbrowski, residing in Copenhagen, presented his Danish FREE4ARTS quartet with a changed line-up. Jakob Anderskov's piano on the excellent album was now substituted by Simon Kreb's electric guitar. With this special line-up of electric guitar, Sven Dam Meinild's baritone sax, and Kasper Tom's drums, Dabrowski started with a kind of cortège with a Morricone-like tinge, then finished with a nice bouncy piece introduced on baritone sax. With the rich tonal potentials of this special line-up the group worked through a series of colorful pieces. Coming across as a bit stationary it seemed the group in this line-up was still on its way to exploit the dynamic potential of its well-crafted compositions. Without doubt these musicians will make it happen.

Dąbrowski's FREE4ARTS quartet was followed by a solo-recital of pianist Marcin Masecki. I will not say he is a phenomenon, because pianist Marcin Masecki really is one! In Poland he is well known by jazz and contemporary classical listeners and also active on the creative fringes between rock, avant-garde and avant-pop. However, it is not this superficial heterogeneity that makes him a special kind of musician comparable to no one but himself.

Masecki is a masterful de-framer in the sense that he dismantles genre-specific performance routines and perceptions in a non-sensational way. This is how he manages to avoid that a new dominating frame immediately re-canalizing the perception is established. He always de-frames in a puzzling reducing way, a way that disturbs listeners' perception and at the same time focuses their attention to a musical core. It is a radical and playful reductionism (it has some resemblance to elements in the work of famous Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999).

I described a former performance of him (last year) at the 12Points Festival 2014 in Umeå, Sweden, at All About Jazz:

" ... Marcin Masecki (...) travelled along a different route in a different mode of (de)constructing. His performance had a kind of under-the-looking-glass character. The act of making music and Masecki's inherent decision-making could be seen, including doubts and the ambiguities of certain actions taken. This inside-outside switching lent a new significance to the Scarlatti-fragments he was executing—or, as Masecki put it himself, he was "exe/orcising." He was not just improvising on and naively embellishing Scarlatti's scores; the pianist de-and reframed usual performance-routines, as Uri Caine has done previously, but in a different way. It resulted in a puzzling, at times breathtaking and enthralling performance throughout."

The performance at Jazztopad continued along that route, only with different ingredients.

A Yamaha grand piano was positioned on the outer edge of the stage in Sala Czerwona (Red Hall). At the center of the stage we could see an old, shabby, upright piano with a vintage keyboard. Masecki played the upright piano, his back turned towards the Yamaha. In the beginning his way of playing seemed like slapstick, but very soon the audience could notice the serious essence in the tonal purity, as well as in the rhythmically sophisticated, strong execution. Masecki took sounds seriously serious and removed a lot of ballast, thus regaining some exonerated perception.

Masecki executed this with a greater diversity of music and musical moments. It was puzzling, exciting, and above all a highly enjoyable experience. In his recital he played two keyboards simultaneously: quite usual nowadays in jazz and pop music. However, a pianist has only two hands and may need more to execute certain aspects or elements of performing. Modern electronics may offer a way out, but you can also—as Masecki showed -use your nose and knees to extend your possibilities.

The upright piano Masecki used in his performance could apparently be none of the NFM instruments. It turned out to be Masecki's own home instrument. It had been transported from Warsaw to Wroclaw as (an essential) part of the performance. Masecki is planning to tour Europe in 2016 with his upright piano in the van. It will be exciting to see where his van and his approach to music making will take him. Some wise presenters present at Jazztopad already took action.

Masecki recently released a classical recording referring to van Beethoven's deafness. He simulated it by using wax caps and special soundproof headphones, in order to create the perspective of a deaf composer: "When Beethoven wrote his last piano sonatas, he had been completely deaf for many years. This had specific consequences for the compositional process. As an invalid he was no longer in touch with how music works in real time during its execution. Paradoxically it freed him from musical conventions and enabled the creation of highly original and highly abstracted forms, often barely coming up in the traditional possibilities of perception (...). When I cannot hear what I am playing, these forms present themselves more easily and efficiently."

Masecki has been commissioned to write new work for Big Band for next year's Jazztopad Festival. It makes you wonder how the de-framing and de-routinizing will manifest itself in that particular field of composing, arranging and performing.

The finishing batch was reserved for an extraordinary combination of the three Wócinski Brothers (pianist Szymon Wójciński, bassist Ksawery Wójciński, and trumpeter Maurycy Wójciński) and communally chosen partner in crime drummer Krzysztof Szmańda as an associated member of this family-group. These musicians turned out to be masters in conjuring up turbulent sound storms slowly and genetically from whizzes of the air on the ground and whispers of the wind—triggering the image of a big, strong bear slowly, slowly awakening to full power. The gradual unfolding of its sound expansion and condensing with wonderful moments of transition were stunning thanks to its timing based on incredible mutual anticipation. It offered the audience good food for its imagination, possibilities to wonder and wander. The encore was a nice panther shuffle in a color different from pink. The Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet made an impressive mark and deserves wider recognition. The release of its debut-album is coming up (march 2016).


Jazztopad is a well-dosed festival that proceeds from day to day, presenting a great variety of concerts and musical performances of high artistic level and value. It offers various experiences of energies, different temperatures and temperaments, female and male musicians of divergent ages and cultural backgrounds. This year experienced a completely new ambiance the festival still is getting used to, growing into, taking over the new location(s) to animate them and make it a home.

When you single out parts of the festival, for instance the piano, you can clearly make out the quality already mentioned. Jazztopad presented an impressive choice of pianists. Female: Sylvie Courvoisier, Kaja Draksler, Eve Risser, Christine Wodraschka, and male: Steve Beresford, Marcin Masecki, Lukasz Ojdana, Rodrigo Pinheiro, Micheal Reis, Gwinlym Simcock, Ralph Towner.

Apart from this variety and the new ambiance three 'deviant' performances saliently stood out from the common format: one that utilized the buildings' enormous space to make music, one that used interspersed humorous narratives, and one that worked on the ritualized forms of making, presenting and perceiving music in a concert hall and at a festival. The first one was Melting Pot Wroclaw's performance in the foyer, spread out over the five building stories and at the same time having intimate effects on the audience. The second one was Donkey Monkey appearance of Eve Risser and Yuko Oshima. The third one was the recital of Marcin Masecki who did it in a highly inspiring way, avoiding any populist or propagandistic circus. Most of the other groups and concerts completely took the usual framing for granted, fulfilling their own and the audiences' expectations: self-sufficient, with a low degree of empathy and preparedness to directly address the audience in order to actively constitute and maintain a common space. This had a direct influence on the transportation and flow of (differing forms of) energy. It is not an unimportant neutral thing. Especially the energy aspect is closely related to female/male polarities from which discrepancies in experiencing performances and divergent preferences can result.

These remarks are not intended to be a plea for 'big' experimentation and superficial circus, but more awareness and mindfulness would be in order. It is, first and foremost, a question of substance and secondly a choice of a good form. Instead of remaining more or less automatically in splendid isolation in the incumbent place, awareness of the 'old' locus and attitudes of 'jazz,' 'improvisation' and real time creation on stage could help to transform it to its own future. The series of living room concerts during the second part of the festival are a good example of this. These aspects remain food for thought, and this also goes for the presenters. Jazztopad made a start and it remains to be seen how it will find its way into performance and festival reality.

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