Born in 1966, Mikołaj Trzaska is a saxophonist, bass clarinettist, and composer deeply tied to the city of Gdańsk. He is considered an icon of Polish avant-garde jazz. On his musical journeys, Trzaska seeks the common elements of Jewish and contemporary music.
In Mikołaj Trzaska’s opinion, the most important thing in art is to maintain one’s individuality. His musical activity, travels, and encounters are a true kaleidoscope of events, starting from yass experiments through international projects and ending up with a return to his roots.
In 1988, Trzaska began studying at the Painting Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. At the same time, under the influence of the music of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, he decided to start playing alto saxophone. Shortly afterwards he joined Tymon Tymański’s band Sni Sredstwom Za Uklanianie, which later evolved into Miłość – a group which was the origin of the greatest ‘ferment’ in Polish jazz at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, he abandoned the academy to devote himself entirely to music. From 1990 to 2001, he was a member of Miłość. The group became one of the pillars of the so-called yass scene, collaborating with, among others, Lester Bowie and Tomasz Stańko. They recorded five albums (Miłość, Taniec Smoka, Not Two, Asthmatic, Talkin’ About Life and Death), and the soundtrack for Olaf Lubaszenko’s film Sztos (1997).
In 1993, Trzaska made his first compositional forays and formed his own band, Łoskot. In the next year, Mikołaj Trzaska and Tymon Tymański co-founded a duo called Masło, which later became known for its pure nonsensical humour. They performed often controversial variations of rock and jazz standards. In 1995, Trzaska recorded his first solo album, Cześć, Cześć, Cześć. In 1996, he started collaborating with Marcin Świetlicki’s Kraków-based band Świetliki. They cooperated for twelve months, including on the album Cacy, Cacy Fleischmaschine. A few years later Trzaska and Świetlicki recorded another album together, Cierpienie i Wypoczynek. In 1998, Trzaska became a member of a new group: the NRD quartet, along with Jerzy Mazzol, Ryszard Tymański, and Jacek Olter. The band was active for a few months, during which the artists gave a few concerts and recorded the album Sport i Religia together. The year 1999 brought a new project called The Users (with Robert Brylewski, Marcin Świetlicki, Ryszard Tymański, Milo Kurtis, and Jacek Olter) and another album: Nie Idź Do Pracy. In 2000, Mikołaj Trzaska established the Kilogram Records label together with his wife Ola, intending to release improv and free jazz as well as their own projects.
At the beginning of the new millennium, between 2001 and 2004, Trzaska collaborated with Marcin and Bartłomiej Oleś, brothers who are both musicians and composers. Their album Mikro Muzik is a milestone in contemporary Polish jazz. The trio recorded three other albums: La Sketch Up, Danziger Strassenmusik (the recording sessions of which took place on the streets of Gdańsk), and Suite For Trio + 4 (in cooperation with French trumpeter Jean Luc Capozzo).
The year 2003 was full of musical inspiration and encounters for Mikołaj Trzaska. First, he went to Ukraine, where he recorded the album Andruchoid with Yurii Andrukhovych, a prominent Ukrainian writer and poet. During the Blooms Days Festival in Dublin he performed alongside Austrian cellist and composer Clementine Gasser. Their meeting resulted in long-term cooperation both in a duo and in bigger ensembles. Trzaska also had the opportunity to perform with French guitarist Noël Akchoté, with whom he also visited the recording studio of the Academy of Music in Warsaw. However, it was a journey to Scandinavia that turned out to be the most valuable experience for him. The artist met bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and drummer Peeter Uuskyla, who constitute Peter Brötzmann’s band’s rhythm section. The trio recorded two albums together: Unforgiven North (2004) and Orangeada (2006). In April 2005, Peter Brötzmann joined them, thus establishing the North Quartet, which then recorded Malamute.
2005 brought further unexpected meetings. First, Trzaska toured Germany with drummer Paul Wirkus and double bassist Johannes Firsch. Then he joined Peter Friis Nielsen and Peter Ole Jorgensen to record the album Volumen, released by Danish label Ninth World Music. Recording an album with Paul Wirkus inspired by Andrzej Stasiuk’s Nacht ended that busy year.
The Polish saxophonist got very comfortable with playing in international bands. In 2006, he started collaborating with Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen (Intimate Conversations). A year later Trzaska went on tour with Trio X (Magic). An invitation to Ken Vandermark’s international Resonance project in November 2007 was the culmination of Trzaska’s international activity.
At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Trzaska turned his interest to traditional Jewish music, partly because of his Jewish ancestry. He shows this fascination at his concerts and on the albums of his bands Ircha and Shofar.
Trzaska established Shofar in May 2006 together with guitarist and composer Raphael Rogiński and drummer Macio Moretti. The next year they recorded their first, self-titled album. Two further releases, Ha-huncvot and a recording of their concert in Powiększenie club in Warsaw took place in 2013. In 2015, Shofar recorded another live album, entitled Gold of Małkinia.
In June 2008, Trzaska founded the clarinet quartet Ircha, along with Wacław Zimpel, Paweł Szamburski, and Michał Górczyński. Those four prominent improvisers explore Jewish mysticism through music, combining – as they are described on the website of the Jewish Culture Festival – an exceptionally sensitive approach with masterful performance unafraid of improvisation.
Mikołaj Trzaska has also been active for many years creating music for film. He regularly collaborates with Wojciech Smarzowski, composing music for his films Dom Zły, Róża, Drogówka, Pod Mocnym Aniołem, Wołyń, and Kler. Trzaska also composed music for the animated films Debiut (2016), Bernard (2017) and for the Television Playhouse (Teatr Telewizji) performance Kuracja. He has also written music for many documentary films, such as List do Syna by Iwona Bartólewska, Koniec Świata by Monika Pawluczuk, Powrót Agnieszki H. by Krystyna Krauze and Jacek Petrycki, and Szklana Pułapka and Przywódcy by Paweł Ferdek. In 2018, the Greek-Polish film co-production Pity featuring Trzaska’s music had its premiere. In addition, the artist collaborated with Borys Lankosz on Obcy and with Szymon Uliasz and Magdalena Gubała on Ścinki. Uliasz and Gubała directed Trzaska’s biographical film titled Ucho Wewnętrzne in 2016.
Mikołaj Trzaska’s artistic output includes an impressive number of collaborative projects. He performed and recorded albums with, among others, Paul Wirkus, Raphael Rogiński, Macio Moretti, Tomasz Sowiński, Joe McPhee, Jay Rosen, Noah Rosen, Peter Ole Jorgensen, Peter Jacquemyn, Johannes Bauer, Clementine Gasser, Bernhard Loibner, Joachim Roedelius, Paweł Szamburski, Michał Górczyński, Clayton Thomas, Dominik Duval, Jay Rosen, Kent Kessler, Evan O’Reilly, Christian Weber, Tomas Fujiwara, Elizabeth Harnik, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mark Sanders, Yurii Andrukhovych, Tymon Tymański, Leszek Możdżer, Peter Brötzmann, Marcin and Bartłomiej Oleś, Tomasz Stańko, Lester Bowie, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Fisz Emade.
- Miłość - Miłość (GOWI, 1992)
- Miłość - Taniec Smoka (GOWI, 1994)
- Łoskot - Koncert w Mózgu (GOWI, 1994)
- Miłość - Not Two (GOWI, 1994)
- Łoskot - Cześć, Cześć, Cześć (GOWI, 1995)
- Miłość - Asthmatic (GOWI, 1995)
- NRD - Sport i Religia (1998)
- Łoskot - Amariuch (Multikulti, 1998)
- Miłość - Talkin’ About Life And Death (GOWI, 2000)
- Marcin Świetlicki - Cierpienie i wypoczynek (2000, Biodro Records)
- Łoskot - Śmierdzące Kwiatuszki (2000, Folk)
- Oleś / Trzaska / Oleś - Mikro Musik (1KG Records, 2002)
- Oleś / Trzaska / Oleś - La Sketch Up (1KG Records, 2003)
- Oleś / Trzaska / Oleś - Danziger Straßenmusik (1KG Records, 2004)
- Trzaska / Uuskyla / Friis Nielsen - Unforgiven North (1KG Records, 2004)
- Trzaska / Andrukhovych - Andruchoid (1KG Records, 2005)
- Mikołaj Trzaska / Paul Wirkus - Nacht (1 KG Records, 2005)
- Oleś / Trzaska / Oleś / Cappozzo - Suite For Trio + 4 (2005)
- Trzaska / Brötzmann / Friis Nielsen / Uuskyla - Malamute (1KG Records, 2005)
- Trzaska / Uuskyla / Friis Nielsen - Orangeada (1KG Records, 2006)
- Mikołaj Trzaska - Kantry (1 KG Records, 2007)
- Trzaska / Friis Nielsen / Jorgensen - Volume: Aeter (Ninth Wind, 2007)
- Shofar - Shofar (2007; with Shofar)
- Trzaska / McPhee / Rosen - Intimate Conversations (1KG Records, 2007)
- Trzaska / Gasser / Zerang - Nadir & Mahora (1 Kilogram Records, 2008)
- The Resonance Ensemble - Resonanse (10 CD Boxset, Not Two, 2009)
- Mikołaj Trzaska Ircha Clarinet Quartet feat. Joe McPhee Lark - Uprising (2010, MultiKulti)
- Brotzmann / Trzaska / Bauer - Goosetalks - (1Kilogram Records, 2010)
- Mikołaj Trzaska - Dom zły (1 Kilogram Records, 2010)
- Mikołaj Trzaska / Joe McPhee / Dominic Duval / Jay Rosen / - Magic (Not Two, 2010)
- Mikołaj Trzaska Ircha Clarinet Quartet - Watching Edward (2011, Kilogram)
- Reed Trio (Vandermark / Trzaska / Wacław Zimpel) - Last Train To The First Station (Kilogram Records, 2011)
- INNER EAR - Breathing Stream (1 KG Records, 2011)
- Volume (Trzaska / Bauer / Friis Nielsen / Jorgensen) - Tungt Vand (Ninth World, 2011)
- Mikołaj Trzaska Ircha Clarinet Quartet - Zikaron Lefanai (2012, Kilogram)
- The Resonance Ensemble - What Country Is This? (2012, Not Two)
- The Resonance Ensemble - Kafka in Flight (2011, Not Two)
- Mikołaj Trzaska - Trzaska gra Różę (2013, Kilogram)
- Shofar - Ha-Huncvot (1KG Records, 2013)
- Shofar - Live at Powiększenie (DVD, 1KG Records, 2013)
- Inner Ear - Return (Bocian Records, 2013)
- The Resonance Ensemble - Head Above Water, Feet Out of The Fire (Not Two, 2013)
- Mikołaj Trzaska, Rafał Mazur, Balázs Pandi - Tar & Feathers (Gustaff Records, 2014)
- Riverloam Trio - Inem Gortn (FMR Records, 2014)
- Tim Daisy & Mikołaj Trzaska - In This Moment (Relay Recordings, 2014)
- Michał Jacaszek, Tomasz Budzyński, Mikołaj Trzaska - RIMBAUD (Gustaff Records, 2015)
- Shofar - Gold of Malkinia (Lado ABC, 2015)
- Mikołaj Trzaska - Delta Tree (Kilogram Records, 2016)
- Mikołaj Trzaska, Jacek Mazurkiewicz - Nightly Forester (Multikulti Project, 2016)
- Mikołaj Trzaska, Rafał Mazur, Peter Ole Jorgensen - Jellyspace (Not Two Records, 2017)
- Mikołaj Trzaska & Vasco Trilla - Catapulta De Pols D’estrelles (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2017)
Originally written in Polish by jazzarium.pl, December 2014; discography: Marek Romański, January 2009; translated and updated by MG, March 2019.