Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Komeda Project – Requiem

To say that an album is as important as it is good could be interpreted many different ways – but the second release by the Komeda Project is in the best sense of the word. Pianist/composer Krzysztof Komeda is not unknown to fans of both jazz and cinema (quick to pick up on Komeda’s trademark cinematic style, Roman Polanski enlisted him to write film music for Knife in the Water and Rosemary’s Baby). But Komeda is overdue for a revival, and fortuitously we have the Komeda Project to renew interest in a figure who is something of a doomed legend in jazz history. Komeda died in 1968 at age 37 from complications of a head injury sustained under mysterious circumstances. Medical malpractice or something even more sinister may also have played a role (the Polish communist regime, not particularly fond of western-inclined jazz musicians, is suspected by some). The Komeda Project’s first album Crazy Girl covered some of Komeda’s more accessible, straight-up compositions – “club music,” as the group puts it. This time around, group leader and pianist Andrzej Winnicki is joined by his powerhouse countryman, saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, noted New York trumpeter Russ Johnson and an American rhythm section of Scott Colley on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, working their way with equal parts care and abandon through a selection of Komeda’s darkest works. Much of this sounds like a less jarring Balkan version of Mingus, ranging from moody to outright gloomy. At its best, Komeda’s work is extraordinarily affecting – it refuses to let the listener go, and the band here does justice to the material as well as including two original compositions by Winnicki that often vividly echo Komeda.

The album opens with the three-part Night-time, Daytime Requiem, written for Coltrane. Its Trane influence isn’t felt in its haunting, almost Satie-esque piano but it is very much present in the sax chart, and Medyna attacks it with an aptly rapidfire, inspired aggression. Like much of the rest of the music here, it’s strikingly imagistic and wouldn’t be out of place in an arthouse suspense film, matching wary trills to an uneasy mid 2oth century urban bustle a la Mingus or mid-50s Miles. Ballad for Bernt, from the Knife in the Water score, is sad and beautiful with a particularly poignant Johnson solo. The aptly titled Dirge for Europe is literally a funeral march, Waits and Colley impressively taking it lento but managing to imbue it with an almost reluctant swing.

Astigmatic, which served as something of a signature song for Komeda, gets a clever, playful treatment through its Brubeck-esque opening section, grows insistent with Johnson and Medyna sailing overhead and grows to where Medyna decides to take a full-tilt run for the border with some wild, Turkish-flavored swirls and wails – it’s easily the most adrenalizing moment here. Prayer and Question is the most overtly Mingus-inflected number here, an imploring dialogue between piano and sax that grows to a lengthy, scurrying chase scene. Of the Winnicki originals here, there’s the expressive, expansive ballad Elutka, bass and drums roaming casual and free beneath somewhat rubato piano, and the cd’s concluding cut, Anubis, a pensively shape-shifting Komeda homage that does justice to its main inspiration. Overall, this is an inspired and impressive reintroduction to a great cult artist who would no doubt have transcended that category had he not been cut down before his time.

Happily, the Komeda Project plays the occasional live show as well (they’ve recently made the Cornelia Street Cafe their New York home) – check back for live dates.

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October 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Sospiro Winds at Music Mondays, NYC 10/19/09

The Sospiro Winds have quietly and methodically insinuated themselves as a particularly adventurous fixture in the New York music scene. It was particularly auspicious to see a good crowd assembled, on a Monday night no less, for the quintet’s program of exciting, obscure woodwind ensemble pieces (memo to other concert promoters: new music is commercially viable, especially if it’s this good!). The group opened with Viennese Romantic composer Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Humoreske, a little post-baroque style introduction (actually an etude, as one of the group explained) that set a convivial tone for the rest of the evening. In stark contrast, the great Hungarian modernist Gyorgy Kurtag‘s Quintetto Per Fiati was a stark and frequently disturbing, cinematic partita in eight sections that ran from an ominously minimalist intro through a series of boisterous and surprise-laden grapples with demons and syncopation. There’s a horror movie out there somewhere that needs this piece. Another partita, by the German post-Romantic Theodor Blumer moved from “fresh and fiery” to an insistently crescendoing conclusion.

The second half of the show was also replete with surprises. Contemporary American composer Derek Bermel’s Wanderings for Woodwind Quintet cleverly cached away a rousing klezmer dance within its first section, Gift of Life, turning plaintively percussive with Two Songs from Nandom, a particularly imaginative arrangement of an organ piece built on echo devices. Hector Villa-Lobos, a favorite of the group, was represented by the characteristically colorful, flamenco-inflected Quintette en forme de Choros. They closed with an Elliott Carter number that, even without a program (serves us right for getting to the venue at the eleventh hour) was obviously him, perversely atonal yet still managing to be cloying. Flutist Kelli Kathman gets top billing in the group, likely due to her Bang on a Can cred (she’s a member of SIGNAL); joining her with a swaying, passionate but precise attack was oboeist James Austin Smith. Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois made her most difficult, sonically expansive passages look easy, as did the group’s newest member, French horn player Alana Vegter while Adrian Morejon gave a clinic in power and precision on bassoon, tackling all sorts of challenging staccato passages with fire and aplomb.

Music Mondays is an ambitious monthly series at the comfortably rustic old church at the northeast corner of 93rd and Broadway, currently home to two congregations, Advent Lutheran Church and Broadway United Church of Christ; watch this space for upcoming events.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment