December issue of Jazz Forum Magazinepublishes Bogdan Chmura’s review of “Polish Concertos” in NOSPR Katowice.

As part of Zaduszki Jazzowe event (Jazz All Souls’ Day) held in NOSPR in Katowice, during the evening of 4 November, the audience were bestowed three classicizing works of distinguished Polish jazz creators: Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski, Mateusz Smoczyński and Zbigniew Seifert. The orchestra was conducted by a confident hand of maestro Alexander Humala, and the roles of soloists were played by Henryk Miśkiewicz and Mateusz Smoczyński. […]

The second part of the evening was filled with two compositions. We first listened to the premiere performance of Adam’s Apple violin concerto (for violin and baritone violin) by Mateusz Smoczyński of a piece borne out of fascination by the creative works of American minimalist John Adams (1947). The piece consists of four parts played attacca and lasts about 28 minutes. With no score in front of your eyes, it is hardly possible to precisely describe its structure and all virtues. Let me then share with you just a few casual observations made ad hoc.

Maintained in a slow pace, the beginning is a short impressionistic intro by the orchestra from which an ecstatic theme emerges – one that at first evokes associations with Szymanowski’s Fountain of Arethusa (a broad, lyrical cantabile, chromatic). Several expositions are placed at the background of steady, slightly dissonance-flavoured marches of the orchestra. Then follows a change of tempo and character of the music, a lively fugato comes in to create a background for expressive solo/ improvisation of the violin when elements from the border of jazz and ethnic (Balkan and bluegrass) music encounter. This is one of the brightest moments in the entire piece.

After slowing down the tempo and a bridge we again are bestowed a solo part, recitative this time, alluding to the music of the Orient (a characteristic scale with an augmented second, micro glissando, imitated sounds of sarangi) and sonorism (murmuring effects). Sharp chord themes, as if from the beginning of Seifert’s “On the Farm”, make an announcement of the exuberant finale, played at a staggering pace, where the orchestra powered by a locomotive rhythm blooms with every colour one can imagine and the soloist, boasting all the means the violin technique has developed from the beginning of time all the way to the 21st century, reaches the summit of virtuosity. So far I have thought Mateusz Smoczyński was mainly an outstanding jazz musician, but now, after seeing Adam’s Apple, I also find him a composer who is able to create contemporary, sophisticated music, very attractive to the audience.

The last item on the agenda was a Jazz Concerto for violin, symphony orchestra and Zbigniew Seifert’s rhythmic group. This is the most extensive piece in the works of a genius violinist, an important composition, and still laying somewhat on the side. The artist has worked on it for two months in 1974, and wrote it – as he himself mentioned in an interview – day in and day out. The premiere performance of the Concerto was conducted this year in Hamburg. It was played by Rundfunkorchester Hannover des NDR under the baton of Mladen Gutesha and jazz band: Zbigniew Seifert, Joachim Kühn – p, Eberhard Weber – b, Daniel Humair – dr. Another performance did not come until 2009. It took place in Cracow Philharmonic; the violin part was performed by Mateusz Smoczyński, joined again by Joachim Kühn and two former partners of Seifert – Bronisław Suchanek and Janusz Stefański. Kühn and Smoczyński played again in Katowice while the “rhythmic group” was co-formed by Michał Miśkiewicz and Sławek Kurkiewicz.

The sound language of this piece (extended major and minor, scales, tonal liberty, clear form), perhaps not as advanced as, for instance, third stream pieces of Trzaskowski, but its clarity and individual nature put it next to the most interesting, most noble achievements of the Polish jazz. However, I can hardly agree with the views that this music stems from the tradition of Szymanowski and Karłowicz. I rather heard here – and I mean the orchestra part – echoes of lat neoclassicism, reminding of Hindemith and the pieces of Polish composers of 1940s and 1950s.

The formal concept of the Concerto might be referred to the principle of alternating placement of arranged phrases, played by the orchestra and improvised (soloist plus section). The contrast emerged as a result of the composer using extremely diverse means in each of these areas, constitutes the main drive of the piece.

The most modern sound, nearly neighboring free, was the violin part and all moments of soloist entering with the section – the duo Smoczyński-Kühn revolved on an orbit reserved solely for grand masters. Those moments, played “three feet above the ground”, imbued with frantic virtuosity, revealed to the audience the versatility of Seifert’s play, demonstrated how wonderfully and in how many ways it may be interpreted today, for decades upon its creation. The “Polish Concertos” event was organized as part of four-day (2-6 November) Zaduszki Jazzowe (Jazz All Souls’ Day in NOSPR. Featuring also: Phaorach Sanders Quartet, Al Di Meola and eccentric guitar player and rapper from Norway Ida Nielsen. All the concerts were organised by Cracovia Music Agency Witold Wnuk.

Bogdan Chmura

Jazz Forum (12/2018)


photo by: Bartek Barczyk