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Maciej Obara Quartet: Three Crowns

Mark Sullivan By

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For its sophomore ECM release this Polish/Norwegian quartet titled the album after the Trzy Korony summit of the Pieniny mountain range in the south of Poland. While it may be premature to describe the album as a peak or summit, it is a substantial artistic statement. There have been prior jazz interpretations of works by Polish composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki—whom Maciej Obara came to know before his 2010 passing while living in the composer's hometown of Katowice—but the two versions here are the first occasion where the family has encouraged interpretation of his works by improvisers.

The album opens with the first of these, the 1963 composition "Three Pieces In Old Style (Part One)." Pianist Dominik Wania introduces the tune in, followed by Obara's lyrical alto saxophone introduction of the theme with rubato accompaniment from Norwegians double bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen. Obara's "Blue Skies For Andy" continues in the same languid style, with a lyrical double bass introduction from Vågan. Alto saxophonist Obara's reedy sound recalls that of ECM stalwart Jan Garbarek's tenor and soprano playing. His solo is followed by an expansive statement from pianist Wania.

Górecki's 1993 composition "Little Requiem For A Polish Girl" features a lovely double bass solo which begins arco before transitioning into pizzicato. Like the first performance, it does not attempt to transform the original into jazz so much as to interpret it freely from a jazz improviser's perspective. "Vang Church" finds the leader as unaccompanied soloist first, before the band joins in for an explosive swing statement.

The title tune begins with unaccompanied drums, leading into the rhapsodic head. "Mr. S" concludes the set with a dedication to Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Obara and Wania first met playing in one of Stanko's ensembles, establishing an immediate rapport. It is an elegiac, atmospheric testament to that relationship, and an emblematic ending to a rich statement from this young quartet.

Track Listing: Three Pieces in Old Style (Piece 1); Blue Skies For Andy; Smoggy People; Little Requiem for A Polish Girl (Tranquillo); Vang Church; Three Crowns; Glow; Mr. S.

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

Title: Three Crowns | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ECM Records

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