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Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map

Ian Patterson By

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At the time of Lloyd's premier of Wild Man Dance, the veteran, Memphis-born musician had been the only musician to eschew Jazztopad's offer of orchestra, chamber ensemble or choir for his commissioned piece. Instead, Lloyd augmented his quartet of Gerald Cleaver, Joe Sanders and Gerald Clayton with Socratis Sinopoulos on Greek lyra and Lukács Miklós on cimbalom.

The concert was a great success, setting Turkiewicz's mind racing while the applause was still ringing in the auditorium. "I immediately started talking with Dorothy [Darr] and Charles about how I would love to continue our relationship," says Jazztopad's Artistic Director. "Charles is one of my very favourite artists of all time so I just couldn't resist and we started discussing the new commission for 2017. As usually it's a long journey to make it happen but I am so happy that this time Charles has decided to work with our ensembles, the NFM Choir and Lutoslawski Quartet. This is going to be a very special suite and I hope we will be able to release it again."

The general critical acclaim that greeted Wild Man Dance—Lloyd's first release on Blue Note in thirty years—has undoubtedly elevated Jazztopad's international profile. "It really helps to connect with people," says Turkiewicz, "because when you mention that Charles Lloyd's last record was your commission they go 'Oh, right!' There's recognition, and suddenly you're not just some random festival."

There are high hopes that commissions performed at Jazztopad 2016 by Wayne Shorter, Jason Moran and the brilliant Polish pianist Marcin Masecki, may also see the light of day in the future. Persuading Shorter to bring new music to Jazztopad gave Turkiewicz particular pleasure.

"When I got the message that Wayne Shorter would be writing a new piece and he chose only four partners he wanted to work on this with, I was over the moon. I always say that inviting and working with all those amazing musicians is a dream come true."

About a year later, Turkiewicz went to Katowice where Shorter was performing with his quartet. The two spent a long time after the concert talking about the new piece of music. "It's amazing just to have that type of a conversation with your jazz guru," says Turkiewicz. "What was even more exciting is that he decided to write a piece for a wind ensemble and we used our resident LutosAir Quintet with some additional players. You should have seen the faces of the Polish musicians during the first rehearsal with Wayne's quartet. They couldn't believe it was really happening. It was beautiful."

Shorter's commissioned piece was next performed at the EFG London Jazz Festival, where it was named the best performance of the festival by The Guardian.

Pitting jazz/avant-garde musicians with the NFM's classical musicians can be a challenging, sometimes nerve-wracking experience—Turkiewicz acknowledges with a smile—for all concerned.

"Sometimes it's a bit frightening when you have the first rehearsal and it doesn't really work, and that happens," Turkiewicz confides. "There can be many reasons for that. It's a sort of a clash of classically trained musicians suddenly dealing with an avant-garde, free artist that writes in another way and has completely different conceptions of time and space. That's often a very interesting thing to observe during rehearsal, especially the first encounter."

Laughing, Turkiewicz recalls the first coming together of Terje Rypdal and the Wroclaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. "Terje said to the guys in the orchestra: 'In this part you're going to play your favorite sound" and they were like: 'Excuse me, which sound exactly do you want me to play?' It takes time for the orchestra to adjust. Wadada [Leo Smith] was the same. The way he wrote the score was completely different to what they were used to."

Each year, the process, it seems, follows a similar path, with the classical musicians all at sea initially.

"In the beginning they are very reluctant and even angry at me," Turkiewicz says laughing. 'Man, again you put us in this position! This is so difficult. We don't know how to play it and those guys are saying put some more flowers into your music or imagine you dive in to a pool this is how it should sound. ' They're like: 'What the hell does it mean? There's nothing in the score. Should it be forte or piano? What do you mean?'"

Although the first encounter is often a stressful one for the classical musicians the end result usually appeases them. "In ninety nine per cent of the performances they come and say, 'Man, that was really good stuff. I'm really happy to be part of it' relates Turkiewicz.


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