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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

Solo in Ukraine

Leszek Możdżer – piano

Recorded live: September 8 2000, December 10 2001

Gowi Records CDG 59 [46:31]



Mazurka op.24 nr.2
Wyzwania Metrologii
Mazurka op. 33 nr. 2
No Message
Mazurka op. 24 nr. 1
My Secret Love/Preludium 26
Maiden Voyage
Mazurka op.17 nr. 4


Like Bobby McFerrin’s solo debut The Voice there’s something about Leszek Możdżer’s Solo in Ukraine which makes me smile, even laugh out loud when I play it. Możdżer’s playing in his more recent albums has become increasingly refined and poetic, but in the exposed setting of a live solo concert on September 8th in the National Philharmonic Hall in Kiev he also shows more of his incredible technique, and a witty side which is so witty it could have out-witted Groucho Marx, had Groucho Marx been a pianist.

There are of course things in common with the older and the new. Experimentation with damped strings and some ‘prepared’ piano; using something metallic to change the timbre of the notes, are common features. In the live setting we get the occasional clunk or twang in one or two numbers, when the implement in question is being implemented or removed. This is all part of the spirited and daring nature of Możdżer’s performance. Another family trait is the composed nature of the music, which is true to the extent you can even hear when he plays a wrong note; 38 seconds into Mazurka op.24 nr.1. There is of course a certain amount of improvisation going on, but once on stage I rarely have the feeling that Możdżer is going far beyond his already far-reaching experiments. The spontaneous feel and sense of grand joy comes from a deeply rooted preparedness.

Looking at the titles, you might suspect some classical intermezzos might be creeping in, but in fact Możdżer uses a device which is always helpful when creating improvisatory structures or patterns – the use of a few well-chosen, often recognisable quotes or passages from a great musical forebear, in this case that of Chopin. Beyond the few fragments which survive untransformed, jazz fans need have no fear they will have to sit through anything remotely ‘classical’, nor should anyone fear jazzy arrangements in the style of Jacques Loussier.

There are one or two moments where Możdżer momentarily enters the Keith Jarrett world of calligraphic right hand over understated spreads in the left, but his swiftness in moving from one moment to the next means that no one flavour is allowed to linger self-indulgently. Many of the pieces expand over a variety of deeply swinging and sometimes heavy ostinati, but to my mind there is never a dull moment, no lapses into soggy sentimentality or time-wasting note-spinning.

With the entire album now being a highlight of my jazz piano collection, I won’t tire everyone with a blow-by-blow account of each track, but merely point out one or two hyper-highlights. I particularly like the damped left-hand sound and bounce in Wyzwania Metrologii, and the madly infectious patterns in Mazurka op.33 nr.2. A big favourite is No Message, which mercilessly abuses Sting’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ bass riff and takes it through some insane progressions. The all-time prize-winner is My Secret Love/Preludium 26, which should be bottled as an elixir for the cure of gloom the world over. Like a poster by Jan Lenica, it is completely mad, and endlessly fascinating.

After Maiden Voyage, the only track taken from a different concert on 10th December in the Lwow Philharmonic Hall and the only one whose 8 minutes are arguably a fraction too long, the Mazurka op.17 nr.4 concludes the programme with relative tenderness, like the farewell gift of an encore.

Anyone wanting to find further information on the concerts or musician will have a hard time gleaning same from the CD booklet, which is entirely filled with gorgeous photographic studies out of which grow pencil sketches from the creative composer at work. It only remains for me to moan briefly at the short playing time, but add my gratitude at such a magnificently anarchic set which will always leave me wanting more.

Dominy Clements



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