Komeda's compelling band accompanies the recitations in German, and the disc displays two major talents of the musician famed for his work on Roman Polański's early films: as an innovative bandleader and a sensitive, prolific composer of scores.
Krzysztof Komeda, photo: Marek Karewicz / Forum
A new CD features composer Krzysztof Komeda's late work, from a legendary session in Germany with his jazz quintet playing settings he created for Polish poetry in translation
Meine Suesse Europaeische Haimat / My Sweet European Home (Anex - Polish Jazz Masters) reproduces an LP from 1967, long out of print despite its significance in Komeda's slim, influential discography. His compelling band accompanies actor Helmut Lohner's recitation in German, and the disc displays two major talents of the musician famed for his work on Roman Polański's early films: as an innovative bandleader and a sensitive, prolific composer of scores.
The fourteen pieces he brought to the recording studio in Baden-Baden, however, were settings Komeda wrote for modern Polish poems, making Meine Suesse Europaeische Haimat a cohesive performance, where soundtracks can sound like bare pedestals for film scenes. Bonus tracks feature the band stretching out on three of Komeda's themes, with subtle force and volatile interplay that made his record Astigmatic the benchmark of the new European jazz (it was released the year before the Haimat sessions in Germany). They are among the final recordings Komeda made before his untimely death in 1969, days after he turned 38.
Komeda and the renowed German translator Karl Dedecius received two dozen Polish poems chosen by producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt, who developed the recording for Electrola, a label distributed by Columbia Records. Berendt's project, subtitled Dichtung und Jazz aus Polen / Poetry and Jazz from Poland, included crucial writers such as Józef Wittlin and Zbigniew Herbert, and several selections come from both Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz, years before they became Nobel Prize laureates. In Berendt's album notes, reproduced in Polish and German in the CD's book-style package, he acknowledges the impact of the Second World War on the poets (both Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński and Józef Czechowicz were killed). Tracks including Prayer and Question and No Love Song At All evolve like concise, emotional musical epics, while Komeda composed post-bop marches for Hamlen Is Everywhere and Komeda im Zirkus Wżyk.
He had been a boy when the Second World War struck Poland, and his aspirations to become a virtuoso musician ended with the occupation years. Before graduating from Poznan's Medical Academy and becoming an ear, nose and throat specialist in 1956, Komeda had ventured to Kraków with bassist Witold Kujowski to explore the underground music scene (Poland's communist authorities were hostile to jazz as a "Western" form). He scored Niewinni czarodzieje / Innocent Sorcerers in 1960, and appears in the remarkable Andrzej Wajda feature about a night on Warsaw's jazz scene, in which Tadeusz Łomnicki's doctor moonlights as a drummer in a band led by Roman Polański. Regular gigs in Stockholm and Copehagen led Komeda to drummer Rune Carlsson, who plays on Haimat and Astigmatic, and to Danish film director Hennig Carlsen, who commissioned scores for several films.
The band's sound on Haimat, frequently pensive, sometimes explosive, is mixed effectively behind Lohner's dynamic recitation. On disarming melodies such as Canzone for Warschau, to Miłosz's poem Campo di Fiori, Komeda's piano chords are harmonically rich, with the impact of a subtle dance or delicate sculpture. On Choral, bassist Roman Dyłag's deep, bowed tone is joined by Zbigniew Namysłowski's alto sax lines (his tender moments are as lush as those of another alto legend, Cannonball Adderley). Tomasz Stańko, then in his early twenties, plays trumpet; in his subsequent decades as a respected bandleader, Stańko has recorded Komeda's music, as have pianist Leszek Możdżer and saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk in their recent Komeda projects. (He also recorded a duet concert with Szymborska reading her poems, rereleased after the poet's death in 2012.)
The producer of Haimat, Joachim Berendt, heard Komeda play in 1956 at the first Sopot Jazz Festival, which he attended with German musicians—an early effort in his nation's cultural outreach to Poland in the postwar period. As a broadcaster and writer, Berendt helped revitalize jazz in Europe, which had been banned by Nazi German authorities as degenerate art. His Jazz Book, published in 1952, remains an important study, and he later produced the Jazz Meets World series, fusing international musicians in what is now called world music. It took a decade before Berendt could bring Komeda's band to Germany and record their project. But Dyłag's alerting contrabass lines opening Sketches for Don Quichotte, and Komeda's sweet, pointed intro to Waltzing Beyond (to Miłosz's A Song on the End of the World, and the original LP's closing number), prove the value of his perseverance. And make this CD edition of their expressive poetic opus very welcome.
Krzysztof Komeda (born Krzysztof Trzcinski, in 1931) took his stage name as a musician to safeguard his career as a doctor. He played piano at the Sopot Jazz Festival in 1956 in a band that preferred Dixieland jazz, then left to follow his love of modern styles. His Ballet Etudes were recorded at the Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw in 1962. Having worked on Roman Polanski's short film Dwaj ludzi z szafą / Two Men and a Wardrobe in 1958, he scored the director's features including Nóż w wodzie / Knife in the Water (1962) and Cul-de-Sac (1966). He returned to Poland after scoring Rosemary's Baby for Polański in Los Angeles, having sustained a head injury at the end of 1968, and died the following spring. The Komeda Jazz Festival was begun in his honor in 1995 in Słupsk, near Poland's Baltic coast.
Sources: culture.pl, www.polish-jazz.blogspot.com, Anex Polish Jazz Masters