Dominik Strycgarski Core 6

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From its beginnings, part of the appeal of Jazz and/or improvised music was how inventive experimenters altered existing tunes, initially American folk ballads and pop songs. As the music became more international so did the sources. Like manufactures which source raw materials internationally, improvisers had access to different melodies. Increased internationalism also meant that local improvisers began to draw on their own country’s heritage for inspiration.

With Czôczkò, Warsaw-based blockflutist Dominik Strycgarski and his five associates have come up with an appealing program inspired by Kashubian hymns. More notably, Strycgarski’s arrangements and the ensemble’s composition – two reeds, two double basses, two drummers – means that the brief program is transfigured from rote reproduction of songs from Poland’s West Slavic ethnic group to sophisticated 21st Century sounds. Like peasants still sporting frilly overblouses and flowered kerchiefs, but who text via smart phones and ipods, what’s maintained in these performances is the concept of unbridled foot-stomping elation.

The double trio format also allows for a variety of forms. In most cases, either Strycgarski or clarinetist Wacław Zimpel states the theme, followed by the others embellishing it with reed techniques that are contemporary but not so unorthodox that they upset the proverbial peasants’ melodic cart. At the same time throbbing bass lines from Zbigniew Kozera and Ksawery Wójciński keep the rhythmic purity of the pieces, while dual drummers Hubert Zemler and Krzysztof Szmańda embellish the program with a combination of dislocated time sense and input from percussion additions.

A piece such as “Emerald” for example is a quirky foot-lifter whose melody could as easily be used as a march or a dance. Recorder squeaks and nasal clarinet tones extend the line alongside drum top slaps. The result is like watching a tap dancer execute difficult steps super quickly without losing the beat. “Amethyst” could be a variant of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. But now it’s a combative shooting star, propelled by parade ground rhythms from the drummers, as Zimpel’s exciting upper-register bass clarinet whistles and slurs speed up and become more slippery as the tune evolves. Like the explanatory introduction to a volume of folk tales, “Ruby” sets up the Core 6’s transformative method, with krinkly celesta-type reverberations and bell-like tones contributing the undercurrent to the double-bass prodded slinky cartoon-like theme. The following “Sapphire” confirms this eclecticism, positing what would happen if a tipsy marching band, complete with recorder-focused bent notes, attempted to reproduce a Country & Western ballad. Guitar-like picking and splintered bowing from Zbigniew Kozera and Wójciński and freak-out drumming bubble underneath, while the horns manfully struggle to keep the tune balanced and chromatic.

Wrapping up the CD by injecting some Polish funk into “Anthracite”, which emphasize that mineral’s hard composition, the band reaches a zenith of its traditional-modern mishmash. As drum off-beats, power pumps from the bassists ground the melody, Strycharski and Zimpel inflate the piece’s gleeful animation with circularly breathed timbre decorations.

Czôczkò easily demonstrates how to transform long-established tunes into contemporary improvisation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ruby 2. Sapphire 3. Topaz 4. Diamond 5. Amethyst 6. Aquamarine 7. Emerald 8. Spinel 9. Anthracite

Personnel: Dominik Strycharski (alto and tenor recorders); Wacław Zimpel (A, Bb and alto clarinets); Zbigniew Kozera and Ksawery Wójciński (bass); Hubert Zemler and Krzysztof Szmańda (drums and percussion)