May 17, 2010
WM Records WMD-0-358852-2
Although to their detriment far too many contemporary jazz CDs are tribute discs to some departed musical giant, a few bring enough originality to the project to be notable on their own. Requiem is one of those because its protagonists – pianist Andrzej Winnicki and tenor and soprano saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna – have spared us yet another run through of the Duke Ellington, Miles Davis or John Coltrane catalogue. Instead they celebrate a Polish countryman, known in North America for his film scores, but who was equally renowned in Poland for his jazz work.
Self-taught, pianist Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969), best-known for the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby, actually scored 40 films all together, including all of Roman Polanksi’s film until that time. His untimely death, following the transfer of his talents to Hollywood, somewhat obscured his earlier jazz quintet work, with trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and (then) saxophonist Michael Urbaniak, which helped evolve a Polish variant of improvisation. Winnicki and Medyna remember Komeda’s talents and in 2004 dissolved their Jazz-Rock Fusion band to concentrate on this acoustic Komeda tribute.
Requiem features two Winnicki originals alongside Komeda-composed material, most notably the three-part Daytime Night-time Requiem – which as a further echo of this CD tribute –ironically was composed by Komeda after he heard of saxophonist John Coltrane’s death in 1967. Unfolding in sections, the performance owes a lot from the tension-laden, contrapuntal match-up between Medyna and trumpeter Russ Johnson, who has worked with bassist Michael Blake and saxophonist Lee Konitz among others.
With the tutti explosions that mark the nearly 18-minute work eventually connective, it’s Johnson’s antiphonal melancholy or burbling triplets; Medyna’s diaphragm vibrated reed line that becomes double-tongued and harsh; plus Winnicki’s swirling piano clusters which best define the theme. Eventually the meandering and bumping adagio line downshifts to an appropriately heart-felt salute. Throughout this piece and others, the thumping bass lines of Scott Colley— who has backed guitarist Jim Hall and saxophonist Joe Lovano – and the rat tat tats and drum rolls from Nasheet Waits – more frequently in the Mingus Big Band or with pianists like Geri Allen – provide an unobtrusive foundation for the soloists.
“Litania”, another Komeda dirge, is given some liveliness by Waits’ popping snares and toms plus the trumpeter’s brightening flourishes. However the tempo-changing “Astigmatic” is more of a showcase for the pianist, who begins his unstressed solo staccato and allegro and works its way downwards to near stasis. Although the horns sometimes play presto – exposing the gritty tessitura of Medyna’s soprano saxophone – more often-than-not the bassist’s striding, sliding and plucking joins with Winnicki comping to define the narrative.
As for Winnicki’s originals, they nestle comfortably among the other compositions. “Anubis” – also evidentially inspired by Trane – is a graceful narrative driven by airy and unaffected soprano sax trills, arpeggiated, meandering piano comping and Johnson’s chromatic flutters that just skirt prettiness. On the other hand, “Elutka”, featuring skittering piano glissandi and a polyphonic face-off among the instruments, seems more mellow and self-conscious in its horn voicing. Overall though, different measures are sutured together for a linear finale.
An out-of-the-ordinary salute to a musician, Requiem is also suffused with out-of-the-ordinary playing and composing that deserves to be heard.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Daytime Night-time Requiem Pt. 1 2. Daytime Night-time Requiem Pt. 2 3. Daytime Night-time Requiem Pt. 3 4. Ballad for Bernt5. Dirge for Europe 6. Astigmatic 7. Elutka 8. Prayer and Question 9. Litania 10. Anubis
Personnel: Russ Johnson (trumpet and flugelhorn); Krzysztof Medyna (tenor and soprano saxophones); Andrzej Winnicki (piano); Scott Colley (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums)