Though violinist Mateusz Smoczynski has played with the likes of Tomasz Stanko, Branford Marsalis, Joachim Kuhn and Anna Maria Jopek, he’s perhaps best known internationally for his four-year stint in Turtle Island Quartet and, currently, Atom String Quartet. With the latter, Smoczyński recorded Seifert (Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2017), its brilliant tribute to violin virtuoso Zbigniew Seifert. Seifert’s shadow looms large again here, not least because this recording is a direct result of Smoczyński winning the 2nd Zbigniew Seifert International Violin Competition in 2016. Seifert’s Solo Violin (EMI, 1976) is, to a degree, a reference point, though Seifert’s embrace of folk, classical and jazz idioms, which likewise runs through Metamorphoses, is less seamless, and more compartmentalized in Smoczyński’s case.
Throughout Smoczyński places emphasis on the emotional weight within each piece, with displays of virtuoso bravura all the more effective due to their rationing. From the impressionistic opener “Dorothy’s Dream,” the use of layered tracks is a recurrent feature, with repeated motifs serving as launching pads for Smoczyński’s improvisations. Multiple voicings work to notable effect on the Prince-like “Manhattan Island,” where a funk riff and a second, scurrying rhythmic pattern, underpin Smoczyński exhilarating flight. Likewise, a strong rhythmic line runs through the country-romp “The Farmer,” as the violinist again dazzles with his beautifully fluid phrasing.
Folk flavours of distinct hue surface on “Julie-O” and “The Old Tune.” The former—penned for solo cello by former Turtle Island Quartet colleague Mark Summer—is a delightful, Irish-tinged air, with pizzicato rhythm and plucked melody alternating with Smoczyński’s sumptuous lyricism. The latter, by way of contrast, is a ballad of Slavic character, with an emotional tension running through the sweetly melancholic improvisation. The purity of Smoczyński’s tone shines forth in his soloing on “Up-Down,” while finesse is key on the hauntingly tender “Zakopane.” Dramatic, the riffing and tumbling glissandi of the urgent “Dragonfly”—an album highlight.
The centre-piece of the album, however, is the four-part “Violin Sonata No. 1 Metamorphses,” arguably Smoczyński’s most personal statement. The sombre first part, “Prayer” conjures the stillness and heavy atmosphere of an airless day. Part two, the restless “Lament,” is laden with inner turmoil. Part three, “Mantra,” as the title suggests, has a repetitive form and strong echoes of Seifert. Part four, “Confession,” is a tense affair, flowing with a dramatic energy that resolves with an almost comic, plucked note. In the sonata’s ten minutes or so, Smoczyński conveys an impressive range of moods, and it’s this emotional heft, over and above his technical brilliance, that most impresses.
With “Midnight Psalm” the album ends with an overt nod to Seifert; Smoczyński’s recurring motif and improvisations are a direct response to Seifert’s similarly constructed “Evening Psalm.” It’s a finale as heartfelt as it is reverential.
Strong compositions and excellent playing ensure that Smoczyński’s Metamorphoses is an engaging listening experience from start to finish. Hot on the heels of his quintet’s outing Berek (Universal Music Polska, 2017), Metamorphoses adds credence to the notion that Smoczyński is a force to be reckoned with in his own right.
All About Jazz (06/2018)