Polish Jazz In London

This year’s London Jazz Festival featured several of Poland’s leading jazz musicians during its international lineup, including: pianists Marcin Masecki and Leszek Możdżer, trumpeter Tomasz Stańko, vocalists Sylwia Bialas and Alice Zawadzki,  from November 13-22. This prestigious festival holds concerts throughout the city’s major venues.

A leading figure on Poland’s independent music scene, the music of pianist Marcin Masecki (above left) veers from jazz and free improv through the dance and brass band sounds of his native country, to re-interpreting classical music in often unusual settings. On November 14, he teamed up with British jazz pianist Alexander Hawkins, creating musical fireworks on the stage of Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. On November 15, Masecki played a short solo set reflecting his inspiration from Krzysztof Komeda’s music—this marked the release of a definitive box set entitled Jazz in Polish Cinema (Out of the Underground 1958-67) by Jazz on Film Records, and served as an introduction to the screening of Roman Polański’s 1962 film Knife in the Water (with a score by Komeda) that followed the concert and CD launch.

Called “uncategorizable, beautiful – a real force to be reckoned with” by BBC Radio 2, Polish singer and violinist, songwriter and composer Alice Zawadzki (above center) performed on November 19 in Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room. Her concert included songs from her debut album, China Lane, as well as some brand new songs—revealing influences from New Orleans soul and gospel, her classical training and improvised music. Zawadzki also lent her unique voice to the concert fronted by the Engines Orchestra and the Phil Meadows Group on November 22 at Kings Place.

On Thursday November 20, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko (above right) and his New York Quartet—comprised of pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver—shared the stage at Barbican Hall with Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and Brazilian bandolim player Hamilton de Holanda. It was a performance of inspirational playing, feisty improvisation and formidable themes derived from Stańko’s acclaimed ECM double album, Wisława—dedicated to the celebrated poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska.

Ivan Hewett of the London Telegraph writes:

This was one of those rare jazz gigs that transported us from pure joie de vivre to the quietest introversion, all within the space of three captivating hours… Moving from Stefano Bollani to the venerable Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko and his New York Quartet was like moving from sunshine to deep melancholy twilight. But it was a pleasurable twilight, full of interesting shadows and haunting lyricism.

Read more reviews at www.theguardian.com and www.londonjazznews.com.

Also at the Festival was the multi-national and “astoundingly accomplished” (Daily Telegraph) trio led by Polish pianist Leszek Możdżer (right) with bassist Lars Danielsson and percussionist Zohar Fresco. On Friday November 21 in Cadogan Hall, the trio of Możdżer/ Danielsson/ Fresco shared the stage with expressive Polish vocalist Sylwia Bialas and her recording colleague, Israeli percussionist Asaf Sirkis. The concert brought the contemporary spirit of European jazz to the Festival.

Bob Weir of the UK’s Jazz Journal said of the November 21 concert: “Możdżer’s piano playing is breathtaking—classically trained and Chopinesque in parts but always infused with powerful jazz sensitivity.” Read the full review at www.jazzjournal.co.uk.

Finally, on November 22 at the Polish Jazz Café POSK, virtuoso violinist and saxophonist, composer and arranger Michał Urbaniak returned to the London stage after a formidable career that included work with Komeda’s ground-breaking Polish quintet in the early 60s, a long association with vocalist Ursula Dudziak, and collaborations with Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller—not to mention a telling contribution to Miles Davis’ classic electric album, TUTU. He was joined on stage by guitarist Femi Temowo, bassist Otto Williams, drummer Troy Miller, and longtime collaborator Xantoné Blacq on keyboards and vocals.

[Sources: efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk, telegraph.co.uk, jazzjournal.co.uk, theguardian.com]