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Polish improvisers

by Piotr Michalowski

From the September, 2011 issue

Over the last half-century, jazz has flourished in Central Europe, especially in Poland. Banned by the Stalinist postwar government, it emerged from the underground in the late Fifties to become an important component of intellectual culture, with a strong oppositional element. When I was a teenager in Poland in the Sixties, my friends and I traded cherished records, listened to the Voice of America Jazz Hour, and supported local musicians. Forty-three years later, living in the land that gave jazz to the world, I still try to follow developments in my native country.

Last month I was told that Mikrokolektyw, a duo of young Polish musicians, was to play in Ann Arbor, and I was asked to collaborate with them on a few tunes. I was extremely pleased, but also somewhat concerned: I knew nothing about them. I obtained their new recording on the Delmark label, Revisit, and instantly was drawn into their music. I also discovered that they have a great following in Europe but also play with many of the best musicians in Chicago--hence the release on the Windy City's best music label. I immediately wanted to write about them, but the upcoming collaboration seemed to create a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the opportunity to play with, as well as to write about, two wonderful jazz players from my native land (both of them born since I left) was just too strong a temptation.

Mikrokolektyw consists of trumpeter Artur Majewski and percussionist Kuba Suchar; they also use samplers and electronics such as the analog synthesizer Minimoog. Well schooled in the jazz tradition, they have an eclectic postmodern approach that uses elements of popular and contemporary classical forms and combines acoustic and electronic sounds in a unique manner.

Majewski likes to use the Harmon mute, which sometimes recalls the more melancholy phases of Miles Davis's work, but he also invokes the more adventurous sounds of Bill Dixon or Don Cherry (who was the subject of his master's thesis).

...continued below...

Every now and then his playing is doubled or processed by electronic means.

Suchar has a parsimonious approach to the drum set, choosing his sounds and rhythms sparingly. But because he calls on a broad range of musical devices at just the right time, he manages to draw listeners into trance-like states only to surprise them at just the right moment. The two work so closely together that sometimes it is impossible to tell who is doing what, and the sheer variety of their music, as well as their judicious use of electronics, makes them sound like a much bigger unit. At first glance, they could be compared to the Chicago Underground Duo, which uses the same instrumentation. But Mikrokolektyw has a very different aesthetic, and their approach to rhythm as well as their use of electronics distinguishes them from their Chicago friends.

On September 22 Mikrokolektyw will play at Kerrytown Concert House, joined, toward the end, by this writer on saxophones and clarinet.     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2011.]


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