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Polish Jazz Network: 102 Free MP3s

Mark Sabbatini By

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Jazz didn't exactly get off to a good start in Poland.

Society rejected it as "jungle music. Critics and even the musicians said little originality existed in performances. One of its few commercial successes came from a band using it as a road show jingle to sell American "Indian motorcycles.

But the intrusion on tradition came to be associated with independence during World War II, with the help of talented Jewish musicians fleeing persecution in Germany. The country's history now features decades of free-spirited pioneers whose playing is often heavily accented with traditional folk and other elements.

That diversity, glorious and otherwise, is captured well in a 102-song, 10-hour collection available free through the Polish Jazz Network (many are from a linked Sony/BMG site). From historic big band and divas to modern trip-hop—and lots of ethnic freeform—it offers some of the Web's better country-specific insight, complete with extensive written narration and resources.

The country's most famous jazz musician may be trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, whose Suspended Night made many critics' top-10 for 2004 and was even hailed by some as a contemporary Kind Of Blue. A couple of 10-minute tracks are an excellent sample of his low-key "predatory lyricism, including his quartet on a live "Love Theme From 'Farewell To Maria' and joining the Motion Trio for a more experimental "Tchetchenie.

The Motion Trio - a trio of accordionists playing classical to rock- also snags Bobby McFerrin for some vocal aerobics on an African-tinged "The Heart. Chasing such connections is often rewarding in itself. The Polish Jazz Network has four tracks by the trio, but a dozen free MP3s and a video of the McFerrin performance are available at the group's www.motiontrio.com site.

Almost any way the tracks are played - alphabetically, in the order listed, randomly - the result is songs varying widely from one to the next. The live eight-minute "Wstuplienie by Arsenal is a leisurely contemporary fusion musing with better depth than American radio audiences are typically exposed to. Scat vocalist Auguscik Grazyna's "Past Forward is set to a Middle Eastern beat heavy on flute and accordion instrumentation. A trio billed as Carter/Blumenkrantz /Zub kicks in a sax-and-drums '60s freeform "Teng Fei, shifting at MTV-pace from maniacal high-register note-flapping to delicate prose. Perhaps easier to appreciate are six ambient ethnic folk tracks by Oles that are heavy on drums and deliberative enough in pacing and instrumentation for most listeners to relate to.

There's also plenty of familiarity, although even it can range widely, such as numerous tracks by the Jazz Band Ball Orchestra (with several guest performers) spanning from a straight '40s "Body And Soul to contemporary rocking blues on "Route 66. And clicking links to some songs will produce probably what a listener expects, such as two tracks by a group called Pink Freud that are heavy on experimentation, analogue synths, intense beats and constantly shifting themes.

Some just don't work, such as "MG^2 by the Boys Band Trio, which starts briefly as a pleasant clarinet- led bit of modern mainstream then is taken over by a throbbing feedback-inspired noise with all the sonic appeal of the Emergency Broadcast System. Jazz listeners may also be put off by some tracks that are essentially vocal techno pop - a likely contribution from the country's commercially-oriented scene.

But the Polish Jazz Network notes the country's history is now rich with diverse performers who often defy conventional description and that is certainly represented at this site. As a pure listening experience the results are as mixed as one would expect from any large sampling of performers, but as a cultural experience it's exceptional. The format of the songs vary widely, but there's also common "ethnicity themes in instrumentation and technique across many of them that demonstrate how Poland has taken an American music innovation and accented it admirably.

Visit the Polish Jazz Network on the web.


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