March 27, 2016
High Definition Quartet
Taking on a classic modern Polish composition in order to play it your own way is a daunting challenge in itself. But like archeologists who uncover buried artifacts which add to the understanding of a particular culture, the High Definition Quartet utilized “Bukoliki’, composed in 1952 as piano miniatures by Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994), adapted and expanded the five minute, four movement program to 47 minutes by utilizing similar folk tunes from the country’s Kurpie region, collected by Polish priest Władysław Skierkowski (1886-1941). Although the re-interpretation may sit queasily for Lutosławski or Kurpian purists, as a program of improvised Jazz the five tracks move Bukoliki’s sounds into another, more contemporary dimension.
That’s contemporary, not cringe-inducing. No action-movie-like special effects or big bangs are heard. Instead what tenor saxophonist Mateusz Śliwa, pianist Piotr Orzechowski, bassist Alan Wykpisz and drummer Dawid Fortuna have done in cinematic terms is to heighten the drama and contrasts within Lutosławski’s five-section treatise. It’s what colorization of a vintage black and white print should do: realize the tinctures the director initially visualized but due to technical limitations, couldn’t create. Underscoring the unfettered exuberance of Lutosławski’s original score at the beginning and end, the band works in variants of Jazz movement in the form of swing syncopation from Orzechowski and positioned cymbal work from Fortuna. By the beginning of “V”, the transformation is now so all-encompassing that you may wonder in what manner a gaudy night club has been set up in the Kurpian forest. Not all of the initial music is rustic however. As early as “I”, via woody bass string slaps, piano key clipping and blasts from Śliwa’s horn, symmetry is suggested, linking traditional Arcadian concepts and what could be the sound of Warsaw-style city traffic.
Wykpisz’s powerful bass stops plus the drummer’s in-and-out of tempo forays go a long way towards resolving these contradictions especially at those time when Orzechowski’s piano output threatens to become too formalist. The lower he pushes into the bass clef however the more profound his contributions become. Also aiding the bass-and-drum team, the saxophonist’s intermittent tonal jumps and peeps add to the tracks’ open-air vitality. Never particularly “outside” Śliwa’s studied moderation perfectly fits the context. By the conclusion Orzechowski has let loose with enough theatrical flourish that he could be mistaken for a so-called classical pianist in the mold of Ignacy Paderewski. But it’s the very Polishness of his and others ‘playing coupled with an appreciation and amplification of the traditional themes, which makes the CD particularly memorable. Next time out though. how about the quartet members playing their own tunes?
Track Listing: 1. I 2. II 3, III 4. IV 5. V
Personnel: Mateusz Śliwa (tenor saxophone); Piotr Orzechowski “Pianohooligan” (piano); Alan Wykpisz (bass) and Dawid Fortuna (drums)