Wojtczak Nyconnection

Folk Five
ForTune 0050 006

By Ken Waxman

Despite appearances, this isn’t a CD by a Polish folk-fusion band, but a summit attended by the All-American Fonda-Stevens group plus Polish reedist Irek Wojtczak. Wojtczak, who plays soprano and tenor saxophones plus bass clarinet, aptly fills the chair which previously hosted the likes of saxophonists Gebhard Ullmamn or Daunik Lazro. From the Łęczyca region, Wojtczak favors Polish folk sounds. Using that thematic material Folk Five shows that kujawiak, mazurek and other Polish dances can be the basis for improvisation. Also implied are the links between eastern European sounds plus early and modern jazz.

Thorough-going professionals, the Americans – truculent drummer Harvey Sorgen, resilient trumpeter Herb Robertson, rooted bassist Joe Fonda and deft pianist Michael Jefry Sevens – imperturbably sail through the program. Considering many of these tunes were created by musicians who couldn’t read music, parallels to early jazz are obvious. On “ale zagrajże mi kowola” and the subsequent “cztery mile za warszawą”, Robertson wails purposely, backed by breakneck bass thumps on the former, then he joins sorrowful drum shuffles to burble emotionally on the second. It’s as if a polka band first interrupts a New Orleans street parade, then adds sympathetic polyphony to a funeral march.

Infrequently vocalizing with a plangent tone as wide as the Polish plain, Wojtczak’s soprano saxophone on tracks such “ogrywka” is so much a part of the tradition that you can visualize circle dances. Driven by Sorgen’s protean power, the saxophonist also modulates upwards to melisma – imagine Trane sporting a regional fur hat. So polkas like “kiej jo ide w pole” owe a lot more to Frank Lowe than Frankie Yankovic. Effervescent swing is expressed through a harmonized piano and drum break; then Robertson’s emphasized triplets and Wojtczak’s chromatic runs deconstruct then theme without disturbing the chromatic flow.

Stevens’ solo spots usually ensure that folk dances’ dulcet poignancy is acknowledged. Alternately, as on “łęczycki”, he grabs a handful of chords, and manhandles them into flying glissandi to trump the saxophonist’s meaty snarls. Folk Five confirms the links between Polish folk forms and jazz in an erudite and exciting manner.

Tracks: ale zagrajże mi kowola; cztery mile za warszawą; łęczycki (oberek); pod gazem (polka);

kiej jo ide w pole (polka); weselny (kujon): oj, stary jo se, stary (mazurek); ogrywka (kujawiak

Personnel: Herb Robertson: trumpet; Irek Wojtczak: soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet; Michael Jefrey Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; Harvey Sorgen: drums, percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2015