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Obara International: Live at Manggha

Eyal Hareuveni By

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The sophomore release of Polish-Norwegian quartet Obara International, led by rising Polish alto saxophonist Maciej Obara, solidifies his affinity with cool Nordic jazz. The group is not only the powerful rhythm section of resourceful Norwegians—double bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen. Lush phrasing by Obara himself and emphatic, profound interplay rounded out by the fantastic young pianist Dominic Wania suggests a formative influence by the Jan Garbarek Norwegian-Swedish quartet from the seventies (with pianist Bobo Stenson, double bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen) and the ECM aesthetics at large.

Furthermore, Obara musical heroes—legendary Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda and his favorite trumpeter, Tomasz Stańko, often recorded with Scandinavian musicians. Stańko even took part in Scandinavian recordings, most notably key seventies recordings by Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. Obara and Wania are taking part in Stańko's new Balladyna project, and the Obara Quartet's debut album, Komeda (For Tune, 2013), offered new arrangements of Komeda compositions.

The quartet first met during the Take Five: Europe event in 2012. Live at Manggha was recorded in May 2013 during the 19th international Masters and Youngsters Jazz Festival in Krakow, Poland, pianist Wania's home town, at Manggha Museum. Due to to an adventurous journey from Łódź to Krako, the quartet arrived only an hour before the scheduled concert. They needed nothing more than a full house to stimulate one of their best performances ever.

New compositions by Obara written especially for this festival intertwined with intriguing arrangements of Komeda's themes, well known by a supportive audience. The group's reserved aesthetics and high level of communication are demonstrated beautifully in this performance. Obara opts for an elegant, lyrical tone, organically flowing yet locked within tight interplay. It rarely reaches violent peaks of free improvisation, but enables enough room for extensive individual contributions. His dialogues with Wania emphasize their affinity with subtle, somehow melancholic forms of ballad dialogues, supported wisely by the inventive, solid pulse of Vågan and Nilssen.

The Norwegian rhythm section rarely challenges the Polish front line, but on "7Up," the most energetic piece in this performance, and the last short, improvised "Manghha," the band lays down an infectious, intense rhythm, forcing both Obara and Wania to follow a liberating, resolute pulse. They adopt rare, spontaneous and dense tones which answer the uncompromising stream of rhythmic power. But Obara and Wania feel at home in more moody, free-form ballads like the beautiful "Unloved," or with the slow- burning seventeen minutes of "Variation," which offers both a chance to charge their respective solos with slowly intensifying energy and passion.

Obara International already sound like an impressive, balanced and resourceful working group that have only begun to explore their promising potential.

Track Listing: Conversation With…; Ballad; 7Up; Unloved; Variation; Manggha.

Personnel: Maciej Obara: alto saxophone; Dominik Wania: piano; Ole Morten Vågan: double bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.

Title: Live at Manggha | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: For Tune

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