LP REVIEW: Krzysztof Komeda – Rare Jazz and Film Music Volume One

Krzysztof Komeda – Rare Jazz and Film Music Volume One
(Adventure In Sound AIS002. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Arriving serendipitously hot on the heels of the Jazz in Polish Cinema CD Set (reviewed here), this very welcome vinyl compilation focuses on the work of Krzysztof Komeda, the charismatic medic-turned-musician who defied Stalin’s ban on jazz in 1950s Poland. It’s the second release from Adventure in Sound, a new label which — at the risk of some synecdochic confusion — features a very pretty label and is the brainchild of Jonny Trunk, perhaps the UK’s leading specialist in reviving lost music of all genres.

This is a ‘split’ LP with side one featuring music used in the soundtrack of Roman Polanski’s breakthrough feature film Knife in the Water (1962), while side 2 consists of trio recordings (and one quartet track) from Komeda’s appearances at the ‘Jamboree’ jazz festivals in Warsaw. This pressing boasts clean transfers and superb, wide-screen sound.

Typish Jazz is breezy hard bop with Bernt Rosengren’s warm and wide open tenor sax leading the way, bouncing on the solid, strutting strum of Roman Dylag’s bass. There’s a sense of smoothly headlong forward motion, dancing across waves like a fast moving boat, which is highly appropriate to the subject matter of Polanski’s film. The Swedish Rosengren is a strong, dominating and highly musical player who would go on to work with George Russell and Don Cherry. Here he wraps things up with a rich, ornate flourish from his tenor.

The jaunty nautical feel continues with Crazy Girl which conjures visions of the original cover of Miles Ahead, the one from the period when Columbia thought they could get away with sticking a picture of a white chick on a sailboat on a Miles Davis album. On Ballad for Bernt the deck still seems to be shifting and see-sawing, in almost drunken motion with the exquisite, lazy lilting of the eponymous Rosengren’s tenor. By contrast, it’s all business for Cherry which has a bustling, urban, nocturnal mood. Roman Dylag’s bass is here at its most headlong and potent, propelling the combo.

Taking over on bass, Jacek Ostaszewski from the Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet is the thumping heartbeat of Roman II, a careening piece in which Komeda maintains a relentless pulse with his left hand while extending a wild excursion with his right. Then it’s back to the left hand as he rolls out thundering chords which are echoed by and expounded into a sharp, chiselling, incisive solo from Michal Urbaniak, another Trzaskowski veteran, replacing Rosengren on tenor. (For more on the music of Andrzej Trzaskowski see the aforementioned Jazz in Polish Cinema set.) Tomasz Stanko responds with a distant, ecstatic cry on trumpet and then moves in close to provide his own version of the theme before unfurling into a solo which goes every way at once.

The trio (and quartet) side of the record provides the opportunity for a closer inspection of Komeda’s music in a stripped down setting and playing on some standards. Stella By Starlight features an elastic stretching of time and succeeds as beautiful chamber jazz. The received wisdom is that Komeda’s importance is as a composer and he’s not to be so highly regarded as a player. This point of view is hard to sustain while listening to Moja Ballada which reveals the considered beauty of his Bill Evans style piano. On another standard, Get Out of Town, Adam Skorupka plays bass with a facility which suggests he might well be a disciple of Jimmy Blanton, and demonstrates how the instrument can be subtly expressive as well as propulsive, almost vocalising the theme — as does Komeda’s insistent, jostling piano. Andrzej Zielinski’s use of brushes on the drums are also a highlight. Komeda rolls us towards silence with his final dark and melancholy chords. It’s definitely time to get out of town.

The recent spate of Krzysztof Komeda releases only add further poignancy to the fact of his early death, revealing as they do the extent of his talent. Rare Jazz and Film Music Volume One is a particularly welcome entry, providing a chance to get to grips with his music on vinyl — and in an edition of only 500 copies, so anyone interested should act quickly. It’s with excitement and anticipation that Komeda enthusiasts will read the fine print in the title of this collection — Volume One… Roll on Volume Two.

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