REVIEW: Alicja Śmietana/ Gwilym Simcock/ Yaron Stavi / Pedro Segundo at Cafe Posk

Alicja Śmietana. Photo credit: Mochles Simawi

Alicja Śmietana/Gwilym Simcock/ Yaron Stavi / Pedro Segundo 
(Cafe Posk. 12th December 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Hearing violinist Alicja Śmietana on Saturday night brought to mind remarks which Polish pianist Władysław Sendecki made to me in an interview in 2009: "What makes a Polish artist is a whole soul, a spirit, a message. In Poland the arts have to SAY something. We don't play music just for fun. There's always a meaning to what we do. It's always been like that. Think of Chopin."  Śmietana does all of the above; she digs deep in to the phrases from many different idioms with total conviction, communicative power and eloquence.

This event, a first exploratory outing for her with a jazz trio  had all of that soul and spirit, plus as many messages as a listener could possibly want.

For Śmietana herself, it was an occasion with all kinds of themes and imperatives hovering over her. The gig was a homage to her late father, that central, larger-than-life figure in Polish jazz, guitarist Jarosław (Jarek) Śmietana who died in 2013. His compositions, then, were very much to the fore, from the hustle and bustle of Okapi or Untitled Blues to the serenity of Flowers in Mind.

There were clearly personal resonances with the Posk, which is the London venue where Smietana played as guest of honour, as hero (review).  Yaron Stavi was a close associate of Śmietana and is a particularly strong advocate (listen to podcast interview), and his presence also gave the occasion authority and authenticity.

It also had excursions into string ensemble territory, with fine contributions from Corinne Henschel and cellist Gabriella Swallow.

The violinist also wanted to commemorate the very recent passing of the guiding spirit behind Cafe Posk, Marek Greliak.  She did this as her first duty of the evening, and she played an unaccompanied violin piece by Biber (Heinrich, not Justin, as she helpfully pointed out.) The promoters had also asked her to include some Christmassy music. And the encore even brought in another theme - a langorous Angel Eyes in honour of the day of the Sinatra centenary.

The gig also happened to mark the first ever oficial, pre-planned, rehearsed collaboration of pianist Gwilym Simcock with drummer Pedro Segundo,  who had only ever played numbers or short sets together. This was their first official appearance together on the same bill. The variation in Segundo's kicking, powerful, enlivening backbeat were much in evidence, constantly challenging and cajoling. And it didn't take much encouragement for the party spirit to emerge: Baby it's cold outside was the pretext for the appearance of sleigh bells, a washboard, some washing being thrown, and even Ole Man River.

This was a many-faceted gig which had clearly taken a lot of pulling different strands together and organizing. And yet, it was a warm-hearted occasion, And fun too.

Gwilym Simcock, Alicja Śmietana, Pedro Segundo, Yaron Stavi
 Photo credit: Krystian Data

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