Obara International

Live in Mińsk Mazowiecki
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Gradually expanding his perspective, Warsaw-based alto saxophonist Maciej Obara has juiced up his International band of two Poles and two Norwegians by adding British trumpeter Tom Arthurs to the mix. Like a touch of pepper that adds flavor, but doesn’t substantially alter the dish’s spice content, the trumpeter, who often works with the likes of pianist Julia Hülsmann and bassist Miles Perkin is attached to similar FreeBop impulses as the saxophonist. With Norwegians, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen keeping the pulse steady, the horns’ contrapuntal jabs toughen the narratives, especially when pianist Dominik Wania’s innate romanticism seems in danger of sugar coasting the seven originals so they become more Disney-like than Grimm’s fairy tale-realistic.

It’s also a testament to the quintet’s cohesion, that’s one composition each from Vågan and Arthurs are logically allied to Obara’s five tunes. With the trumpeter’s “Magret” expressing the date’s most song-like structure, its engaging harmonies have the band playing as one with restrained fissure and fusion, spelled by barely-there trumpet variations.

Replicating the Polish-British partnership most efficient when pilots from both countries collaborated in the Royal Air Force during World War Two, Obara and Arthur epitomize classic reed-brass duos. Still the trumpeter’s sometime gravelly slurs plus the saxophonist’s upward cries, scattershot blowing and trimbral inflections signal the band’s contemporary points of view. Long-range though, the Obara-Wania partnership may pose a conundrum for Obara International not unlike the integration of Silesia into the Polish republic. Sparking and smooth on showpieces such as “M.O” or “One For...” the apparent effortlessness of the pianist’s swinging and balance, also infers bloodlessness in his playing. Bravura in recorded solo piano outings, his Jarrett-out-of-Chopin conception frequently pulls these performances towards flowering prettiness, only to have the too perfumey leaves sheared off by stringent saxophone and or drum counterpoint. Maybe though Wania’s forceful work on “Idzie bokiem” may augur for a more equitable solution. Intertwining rushing forward motion with passionate modality, the result sets off gutty trumpet lines and staccato reed bites. The result is a powerful tune that’s both durable and spirited.

Global in scope, Live in Mińsk Mazowiecki proves that Polish players can easily hold their own in an international improvisational context. But without dampening local musical impulses, more distinctiveness is needed in playing and writing to move these players into Jazz’s top ranks.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Sleepwalker 2. Pinnacle of Accura, See? 3. M.O 4. Magret 5. One For... 6. Idzie bokiem 7. Joli bord

Personnel: Live: Tom Arthurs (trumpet); Maciej Obara (alto saxophone); Dominik Wania (piano); Ole Morten Vågan (bass) and Gard Nilssen (drums