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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)

Milczące serceSilent Heart (1957) [4:58]
Z lat dziecinnychChildhood Days (1962) [6:03]
W lunaparkuIn an Amusement Park (1958) [3:26]
Jeden przystanek dalejOne Stop Further (1961) [5:12]
CzarownicaWitch (1957) [5:12]
Nie oczekuję dziś nikogoI Haven’t Been Waiting For Anyone Today (1959) [6:48]
Znajdziesz mniewszę mnie wszędzie – You’ll Find Me Everywhere (1964) [4:30]
Cyrk jedzieThe Circus is Coming (1957) [5:40]
Po co śpiewać piosenkiWhy Sing Songs (1960) [3:26]
Miłość i świat - Love and the World (1958) [5:15]
Warszawski dorożkarzWarsaw Cab-Driver (1958) [5:41]
Milczące serceSilent Heart (1957) [5:30]
Mariusz Klimek (vocal); Krzysztof Herdzin (piano, keyboards, arrangements); Marek Podkowa (tenor saxophone); Marcin Murawsli (bass guitar); Cezary Konrad (percussion)
rec. live, Studio PiK Bydgoszcz, 8 June 2005

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It is a truism that for a serious composer it isn’t easy to earn a living; it was particularly hard for an independently minded, adventurous composer who wrote ‘difficult’ music to do so in communist Eastern Europe. For Witold Lutosławski one source of income, in the years after the relative ‘thaw’ which followed the death of Stalin, was the writing of popular songs. Between 1957 and 1964 he wrote some thirty-six songs to popular dance rhythms – chiefly waltzes, foxtrots and tangos. The songs were published under a pseudonym. At first that pseudonym was to be ‘Bardos’ – but when he chose that name he was unaware of the existence of the Hungarian composer Lajos Bardos. Obliged to choose another pseudonym he settled on ‘Derwid’ – an interesting choice. Derwid was one of the heroes – a harp-playing hero - of a nationalistic poem (Lilla Weneda) by Julius Słowacki (1809-1849), a revolutionary poet and advocate of democracy.

The ‘Derwid’ songs were popular as performed by Polish singers such as Rene Rolska, Hanna Rek, Ludmila Jakubczak and Mieczysław Fogg. Later, Lutosławski himself was happy to forget about this aspect of his work and the rediscovery of the ‘Derwid’ songs only really happened around the time of a series of events arranged to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. In 2004 at least two events included performances of some of the songs at concerts in Krakow and Warsaw. The concert in Krakow featured the excellent jazz singer Lora Szafran.

What we have here, on this new CD from Acte Préalable is, in effect, a series of jazz improvisations on themes provided by some of Lutosławski’s ‘Derwid’ songs. For ‘straight’ performances one would have to go to recordings such as Rene Rolska’s ‘hit’ version of Nie oczekuję dziś nikog. Indeed, I wonder if this current CD, fascinating as it is, doesn’t run the risk of falling between several stools.

The instrumentalists heard here are successful figures on the Polish (and European) jazz scene. The pianist Krzysztof Herdzin was, for some time, the regular pianist of the great Polish alto saxophone player Zbigniew Namyslowski; he has worked as arranger and pianist on at least one film score by Zbigniew Preisner; he has written arrangements for José Cura; he has worked with the Polish coloratura soprano Ewa Małas-Godlewska. He led his own quintet on the 1995 album Chopin (Polonia CD 056), hard bop improvisations on Chopin which are – unlikely as it sounds – oddly satisfying. He was pianist and arranger on Namyslowski’s album Mozart Goes Jazz (Jazz Forum 019). The drummer, Cezary Konrad, is an experienced musician who has accompanied musicians such as Namyslowski, the singer Urszula Dudziak and Americans such as trumpeter Randy Brecker. He has also worked with the Sinfonia Varsova. The bass player and the tenor saxophonist also have long and distinguished CVs as jazz musicians. And all this shows in the work of the quartet – never less than highly competent, occasionally inspired. Judged as a jazz album, the work of this instrumental quartet deserves high praise. There are some excellent solos by Herdzin and Podkowa, in particular. But the relative weakness comes, I fear, in the singing of Mariusz Klimek who seems to be the driving force behind the project but who, it seems to me, is simply not a fully convincing jazz singer - even if he did win first prize in the Jazz Song Festival at Elblag in 1992. He lacks the rhythmic flexibility, the adventurousness, the quasi-instrumental quality of voice. He doesn’t, to put it at its simplest, swing. A shame, because he can obviously sing. I am not surprised to learn from the CD booklet that he has been singing a good deal of baroque repertoire.

It is difficult to know quite what audience this CD has in mind. The jazz audience will find things to enjoy, but some of them will perhaps share my reservations about Mariusz Klimek’s singing. Lutosławski’s tunes prove decent material for jazz musicians to work with, but are really no better, in this respect, than hundred of others by less distinguished composers. If one wants to hear Herdzin and his colleagues simply playing jazz, there are other CDs on which they can be heard to better effect. No doubt Lutosławski specialists will want the CD, but they will perhaps wish to hear the songs performed ‘straighter’? The general ‘classical’ listener is unlikely to find much here of lasting interest.

So, an oddity. I have enjoyed the CD – but then I am both a follower of jazz and an enthusiast for modern Polish music. Perhaps one needs to be both to find this CD of lasting interest, and the interest in jazz is probably the more important qualification.

Glyn Pursglove


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