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Komeda Project: Requiem

Chris May By

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Despite the snowballing emergence of European jazz musicians on the world stage, relatively few European jazz composers have, in 2009, made it into the global repertory, which continues to be dominated by American voices. Perhaps it always will be, and perhaps local singularities—Italian or British or Scandinavian or whatever—are in any case better treasured, rather than absorbed into a single, universal body of work. But the fact remains that a cornucopia of great "foreign" compositions remains neglected in jazz's birth territory.



By any standards, Polish pianist, bandleader and composer Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969) was a jazz stylist of epic proportions, his work as immediately recognizable as that of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus or any of the American greats. Dark, spectral, bleak but beautiful, a Komeda tune reveals its composer within the first few bars.



During his short life—he died in a Polish hospital from a head injury sustained in California in late 1968—Komeda achieved celluloid immortality with soundtracks for film director Roman Polanski, including Rosemary's Baby (1968), Knife In The Water (1962), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Cul-de-sac (1966) and High School Hotties (OK, not the last one).



But as a jazz composer, Komeda's fame is largely restricted to northern Europe. The best memorial to his work is trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's magnificent Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda (ECM, 1997), recorded in Norway by a Polish/Scandinavian septet. Now Komeda inches towards a wider international acceptance with Requiem, the US-based Komeda Project quintet's second tribute to his work.



The Komeda Project was formed in 2004 by pianist Andrzej Winnicki and saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, who both moved from Poland to the US in the late 1980s, and it debuted with Crazy Girl (WM, 2007). Trumpeter Russ Johnson is held over from that band, but bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nasheet Waits were brought on board especially for Requiem, with the intention of giving it a more pronounced US groove than its predecessor.



The arrangements, all by Winnicki, take few liberties with the source material and include roughly equal parts through composition and improvisation. Comparisons with Litania are inevitable, and the Stanko album's supremacy is unchallenged. But Medyna and Johnson turn in a series of striking solos, Winnicki's arrangements are empathetic without being overly reverential, and Colley and Waits do what they're there to do with conviction. There are precious few celebrations of Komeda's work, and Requiem is to be welcomed.


Track Listing: Night-time, Daytime Requiem (Part 1-3); Ballad for Bernt; Dirge for Europe; Astigmatic; Elutka; Prayer and Question; Litania; Anubis.

Personnel: Russ Johnson: trumpet & flugelhorn; Krzysztof Medyna: tenor and soprano saxophones; Andrzej Winnicki: piano; Scott Colley: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Title: Requiem | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: WM Records

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