Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Amir ElSaffar Brings Middle Eastern, Slavic and Jazz Sounds to Otherworldly New Places at Lincoln Center

The annual Jazztopad Festival in Poland is one of Europe’s major jazz events. They advocate fiercely for Polish artists worldwide and commission scores of new works, focusing on blending jazz and contemporary classical sounds. They’ve also been staging events here in New York for the past several years, ostensibly to entice Americans to make the trip over. It’s smart marketing

To open this year’s Manhattan edition at Lincoln Center last night, multi-instrumentalist Amir ElSaffar led a group including Wacław Zimpel on bass clarinet, Ksawery Wójciński on bass and the strings of the Lutosławski Quartet through the Amerrican premiere of his raptly enveloping Awhaal for String Quartet. Seated at the santoor, ElSaffar opened the piece with a bright, enticing riff and slowly unwinding, rippling variations, much like a muezzin’s call or a phrase on his primary instrument, the trumpet.

ElSaffar – one of the most distinctive and unselfconsciously brilliant composers in jazz or anywhere else these days – has made a career blending maqam music from across the Arabic-speaking world with both large and smallscale improvisation, and this performance was typically celestial. Slowly and majestically, the music rose, fluttering violins over portentous, low modalities from the cello and bass: the work of Kurdish compoer Kayhan Kalhor came strongly to mind.

Zimpel added a simple, emphatic fanfare; the strings descended uneasily, micrtonally, ElSaffar singing soulful vocalese in his resonant, melismatic baritone. With the santoor just a hair off, tonally, from the strings, this was where the otherworldly magic really started to kick in. The strings fueled a lilting dance that grew more somber as the volume rose and Wójciński’s off-kilter yet hypnotic rhythm dug in, Zimpel wailing on his clarinet.

The second movement was much more kinetic, with ElSaffar on trumpet, spiky, circular pizzicato from the violins blending with an austere, Egyptian-tinged phrase which became more lush and enveloping over a swaying 6/8 groove. Together the group developed a series of lively echo phrases, part Afrobeat, part Philip Glass.

Using his mute, the bandleader drew the music into a deliciously suspenseful, hypnotically pulsing snakecharmer theme, capped off by a shivery, spine-tingling microtonal cadenza. The group opened the third movement with a bubbling, Appalachian-tinged theme and shifted toward acidic, insistent, blustery Moroccan jajouka, drawing a raucous round of applause from what had been a silent, rapt crowd.

The tension grew toward breaking point as the fourth movement and its overlays from the strings gathered steam, the drifting tonalities taking on more of an Indian edge. A hazy pastoral recede and rise evoked the tone poems of Rachmaninoff as much as Hindustani ghazals, ending hushed and prayerful. Obviously, with the amount of improvisation going on, one can only wonder what the piece will sound like next time out.

ElSaffar’s next gig playing this material is a free performance tomorrow, Saturday, Sept 28 at 11 PM at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in his hometown Chicago. In Poland, festivities begin at the Jazztopad Festival on Nov 15. And the next free show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Thurs, Oct 3 at 7:30 PM with Chadian electronic group Afrotronix and electrifying Palestinian hip-hop/reggae/habibi pop band 47soul. If you’re going, get there as early as you can becuuse this one will sell out fast

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September 27, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tantalizingly Dynamic Taste of One of Europe’s Most Enticing Jazz Festivals

The booking agent at New York’s most popular jazz club spent ten days at the Jazztopad Festival in Poland last year. After it was over, he confided to the organizer that he was determined to bring some Polish jazz to New York. Consider: there are a hundred jazz festivals in Poland every year, and this one’s not in one of the major cities, but in the southwest corner of the country. Yet in the course of its fifteen year history, the festival has become a magnet for top-tier talent, and also commissions a lot of adventurous new works – Charles Lloyd will premiere a new orchestral suite there this year.

And for the second year in a row, the Jazztopad Festival has booked a series of shows, including many American premieres, around New York. Last night’s late show at Jazz at Lincoln Center featured tantalizingly brief sets from two intriguing and individualistic Polish groups, improvisational piano trio STRYJO along with the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet.

Playfully and methodically, STRYJO constructed a series of songs without words, part Sam Rivers and part Angelo Badalamenti, maybe. Pianist Nikola Kołodziejczyk, who is very much the leader of the trio, would introduce a minimalistic, cell-like phrase or rhythm, then bassist Maciej Szczyciński and drummer Michał Bryndal would enter the picture. Were they going to take the cheery, practically trip-hop groove they opened with to its bouncy, bright conclusion? NOOOOO. With just the flicker of a couple of subtle tonal shifts, Kołodziejczyk shifted it deeper and deeper into the shadows, matched by Bryndal’s muted palms-on-the-toms shuffle and Szczyciński’s slinky, terse pulse. Then Kołodziejczyk’s chords and ripples grew more expansive, a Twin Peaks title theme in Chopin’s native tongue.

The night’s most riveting moment was trumpeter Maurycy Wójciński’s long, plaintive, hauntingly allusive solo during the dynamically shapeshifting second number by the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. Pianist Szymon Wójciński also favored several cell-like themes, building out of them to stark rumbles, flurries of hardbop and neoromatic glimmer in tandem with the muscular drive of bassist Ksawery Wójciński and drummer Krzysztof Szmańda. The robust four-string guy showcased a Henry Grimes-like, glissandoing-and-pirouetting intensity during a long solo of his own later in the set – it would have been a treat to have heard him on a bass with a built-in mic rather than having to lean in to pick up on how much the floor mic was catching. Their elegant, enigmatic, sometimes austere focus made an apt segue with the opening trio, and speaks well to how the Jazztopad folks program a bill.

The Manhattan edition of this year’s Jazztopad Festival continues tonight, June 23 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub with pianist Marcin Masecki and drummer Jerzy Rogiewicz playing stride and ragtime. Then tomorrow night, June 24 at 8 PM the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet make another appearance, at the Jazz Gallery with cellist Erik Friedlander. The festival concludes at National Sawdust on June 25 at 4 PM with first-class improvisational string ensemble the Lutosławski Quartet joined by the darkly conversational duo of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier.

June 23, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment