Krakow Jazz Autumn

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With Krakow Jazz Autumn (KJA), Artistic Director Marek Winiarski has fashioned such a satisfying concept for both participant and audience one wonders why his methodology is not more commonplace. Deciding upon a weekend finale concert, customarily a large ensemble, at Manggha Concert Hall, Winiarski then plans backwards. Weeknights at the smaller Alchemia club consist of smaller lineups extracted from the large band’s membership, often in first-time combinations. This year’s groups were Mats Gustafsson’s Nu Ensemble last October and the return of Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble (Nov. 19th-24th).
Winiarski and Vandermark created a program that was consistently surprising, choosing from countless instrumental combinations. And when Austrian laptop specialist Christof Kurzmann served as a last-minute replacement for bassist Devin Hoff, the program took on an entirely different complexion. Though Resonance has several functioning groups within its ranks, established groupings were more the exception than rule, as opposed to the ensemble’s previous week-long residency six years ago (documented as a 10-CD boxed set on Winiarski’s Not Two label). Only two sets might have been anticipated: the ensemble’s brass section trio and multi-reed quartet. Steve Swell (trombone) and Swedes Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba) and Magnus Broo (trumpet) showed off an arsenal of extended techniques and ceaseless creativity, from circular breathing and register hopping to a stunning collective attack, while Vandermark and fellow Chicagoan Dave Rempis bookended Poles Mikołaj Trzaska and Wacław Zimpel, colors and dynamics varying greatly from predecessors like the World Saxophone Quartet and ROVA. On one piece, Rempis (on alto) played altissimo lines tempered by the warmth of three clarinets. Elsewhere, Zimpel (clarinet/alto clarinet) was the calm in the eye of a storm often featuring Trzaska’s violent reedy outbursts and memorable cutting alto tone.
Resonance’s two Polish members each also played in two additional small groups. Zimpel focused on alto clarinet in separate sets with the Ensemble’s two Chicago-based drummer/percussionists: a duo with Michael Zerang and trio with Tim Daisy and Swell. Unlike the bass clarinet, the alto clarinet’s lower register doesn’t as easily get lost alongside drums and thus Zimpel floated improvisations atop his bandmates in each context. Trzaska also played sets with each drummer, both quartet settings with Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar and another horn player. He matched wits with Rempis, the two steamrolling their way through a powerful 40-minute opener while Daisy added rhythmic coal, overpowering Tokar, whose resonant tones and boundless creativity was also all but lost with Broo and Zerang, except during the set closers. Kurzmann effectively played X factor, starting with his radically different solo set. His fragile but inviting poetic vocals recalled Scottish folk singer Bert Jansch (of Pentangle fame) while his laptop offered sounds ranging from roller coasters, typewriters, moth zappers, sawing, construction site drilling, door buzzers, engines revving and a barge air horn, all presented at a lower decibel level, inviting listeners to reconsider them as music. Kurzmann’s 40-minute duo set with Vandermark was a festival high-point, the latter’s circular breathing patterns adding an effective dimension while the former rounded out the popping pads and noteless breaths, clouding the line between every sound. The moving lyrics from Joe McPhee’s poem “A Song for Beggars”, sung by Kurzmann, added further reflective musical statement.
The festival’s crowning achievement was, of course, its culminating concert. Vandermark’s massive 65-minute composition “Double Arc” was a multi- textural piece intricately arranged and segmented into several distinct sections. Immediately introducing the new electroacoustic element, Kurzmann’s five-minute opening was unaccompanied and continued un-phased with the introduction and involvement of each instrumentalist. The electronics intentionally offered an element of friction, going against the ensemble’s tide one moment before Kurzmann would sit out for extended periods as if controlling a dam’s floodgates. The final six minutes was a cacophonous, energetic, free jazz blowout, taking out the ambitious composition without apology or letdown. The five-minute encore, Vandermark’s “Erased de Kooning Burned” – a concoction of Gil Mellé, Mingus and Globe Unity Orchestra influences – featured the reed section of clarinets and alto (Rempis) with scraped cymbals again blurring the lines between electric and acoustic. Dare we hope a(nother) boxed set might be on its way?!

For more information, visit kjj-festiwal.pl

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of New York City Jazz Record, Pages 13 & 50