Krzysztof Komeda

The Complete Recordings of Krzysztof Komeda, Vols. 1 & 2: Live in Copenhagen

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This mammoth set, which encompasses 23 volumes, is a shock to the system. Who would have thought that the man responsible for composing film scores such as Rosemary's Baby and Knife in Water -- both for Polish countryman Roman Polanski -- had, in his short life, recorded so much after a late start? For starters, before Komeda entered the music world properly (he played and studied piano off and on from the age of 5) he'd been a medical doctor for a number of years. This collection is all over the place; there is no rhyme or reason as to its assembly and compilation. The greatest evidence of that is the choice for these first two volumes: a live date in Copenhagen in 1965 recorded on a primitive tape recorder. Listeners have to wait until Vol. 5 to hear his most famous composition, "Astigmatic." In any case, the tape has been cleaned up considerably, and sounds far better in fidelity than Charlie Parker's Dial sessions. In 1965, Komeda, who had been playing in various groups since 1958, had arrived with his own quintet that featured no one less than Michael Urbaniak (yes, the fusion guy who played violin later) on saxophones, and Tomasz Stanko (lately of ECM fame) on trumpet with Bo Stief on bass and Simon Kopel on drums. It's clear that Komeda wants to make an impression at the Montmartre Jazz Club, not only on an audience who, at that heady time were addicted to jazz but on the scores of American jazzmen themselves who were scouring the clubs searching for -- and finding -- work. The evidence is in the grooves. This band, perhaps the finest of all of Komeda's units, was in fine form playing a program comprised entirely of his own compositions. There's the Miles-ish modal groove of "Repetition," with Stanko serving three striking solos during the work. There's also the homage "Svantetic," to the Swedish Eric Svantetic, which features a classical theme from the romantic period -- Bruckner -- with flatted ninths, flush up against a series of short augmented chords which brings the frontline in, who still play behind Komeda's wildly inventive chord structures. His playing is so elegant, it's nearly invisible at times, but actually, it reveals just how present he is; he fills all spaces, allowing Urbaniak and Stanko their solo space and letting the rhythm section push them forward when they wander off. Ending disc one is "Kattorna" from 1964, a fragmented theme for a soundtrack he later composed for the film of the same title by H. Carlssen. There are bent notes, warped measures, and variations on themes already pulled taught by the tension between Komeda's right hand and Stanko, they reel around each other and are finally brought to earth by Urbaniak's melodic improvisation in the solo. Disc two is only two tunes played over 40 minutes, in what must have been an encore set. "Crazy Girl" is the theme for Polanski's Knife in Water. In the soundtrack it comes off as a muted piece of music for furthering the considerable tension in the film. Live, it comes off as a jazz elegy, a woven piece for quintet, with Urbaniak and Stanko soloing at once. It is Komeda who keeps the piece grounded with the octaves of major sevenths before the theme. What we hear is the Gerry Mulligan quartet meeting the Modern Jazz Quartet meeting the Miles Davis Sextet. There are shifts in timbre, meter, color, and rhythm; the thing just shifts and shimmies all over the damn place while swinging with grace. All of the individual solos, particularly Komeda's amazing long, open-ended meditation on D-minor, are performed with aplomb. This first volume, though a curious choice to open such an ambitious collection, is, in its own right, a fine document of a band just hitting their full stride, and of a composer and instrumentalist fully aware of his capabilities and utilizing them to their limit.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 25:47
2 18:07
blue highlight denotes track pick