Return from the Center of the Earth
Bocian Records BR-M1

Mikolaj Trzaska/Devin Hoff/Michael Zerang

Sleepless in Chicago

NoBusiness Records NBLP 70

Bolstering the reputation for international openness enjoyed by his Gdańsk hometown plus his own career, Polish reedist Mikolaj Trzaska expresses himself imaginatively on these discs recorded during Chicago holidays in 2011 and 2012. Trzaska, whose main horns are alto saxophone and bass clarinet developed his Windy City affiliations with stints in saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble and in small groups with multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee or drummer Tim Daisy among others. Here he exhibits his skills in a classic Free Jazz trio with bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Michael Zerang, two of the city’s busiest players, plus an unusually constituted quartet with Daisy, New York trombonist Steve Swell and Swedish tubaist Per Åke Holmlander.

In truth while adept, Sleepless in Chicago, on which Trzaska only plays alto saxophone, is mostly concerned with how well the trio members bond. Inventive Zerang, whose playing situations have range from Arabic music, multi-media pieces to Free Jazz, provides enough rhythmic cohesion to back or challenge the saxophonist’s more adventurous flights, while Hoff’s stops and plucks stabilize the performances. Trzaska’s playing is “on” all of the time. His expressive flutter tonguing and intense multiphonics allow him to sound, blare, bite and swallow any number of note patterns that are subsequently on show to promote maximum excitement.

Much more of a group effort, Return from the Center of the Earth gives Trzaska’s tone expansions more of a context in which to be heard. Daisy, who has been the backbone of any number of bands, including many of Vandermark’s, appears to possess innate relaxation. Controlling the rhythm with nerve beats and cymbal quivers, he frequently moves in lockstep with Holmlander. Harkening back to the tuba’s initial Jazz role, here and as part of his membership in the Barry Guy New Orchestra, the large-horn expert pumps out a brass-bass beat that is never logy.

Having faced off with a clutch of reedists in Europe and the U.S., Swell is a considerate foil to the Polish player, But his role is sympathetic not subordinate. During the three improvisations his contributions are as solidly rapid as pistol shots or dripping with as many mournful smears as any ancient who gigged in a sporting house. Just as Trzaska alternately expresses his reed textures as sweet and sympathetic, tart and tension-ridden or renal and rugged, depending on which instrument he’s playing, Swell can figuratively be JJ Johnson one minute and Kid Ory the next.

Intent on creating a conclusive sonic summation, trombone slurs mute and alto saxophone phrasing become more delicate in the second and third selection, which were recorded nearly 18 months after the title track. “The Long Full Compartment” and “Citizens of the Night Trains” are still unbeatable slices of free expression, balancing bracing cacophony and broken-line timbres. Without diminishing Daisy’s and Holmlander’s multifold rhythm strength beside them, Trzaska and Swell dilute their sound deliberations enough to portray restraint along with excitement.

The title track is a different matter. Although it too reaches a satisfactory plateau that silences dissonant timbres beneath cumulative cymbal cracks, the piece itself is a series of challenges. A capella or with barely-there accompaniment Swell and Trzaska torque up the ferment with tart growls and grumbles, at the same time as they contrapuntally wrap tones sound one another. Meantime Swell has an illuminating duet with Holmlander where he outputs bright trumpet-like tones to contrast with the tuba’s piston-like blows.

In Midwestern fast company, the Polish saxophonist/clarinetist more than demonstrates he can hold his own.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Return: 1. A Night without Sleep 2. The Long Full Compartment 3. Citizens of the Night Trains

Personnel: Return: Steve Swell (trombone); Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba); Mikołaj Trzaska (alto and C-melody saxophones and bass clarinet) and Tim Daisy (drums)

Track Listing: Sleepless: A. Elastic-Chicago B. Skylark-Chicago

Personnel: Sleepless: Mikołaj Trzaska (alto saxophone); Devin Hoff (bass) and Michael Zerang (drums)