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.