This sixth volume, following the definitive live recording of "Astigmatic" in volume five, presents a work regarded as Komeda's "classic" -- which one can only hope is the reason that an entire CD is devoted to it, though it is only 19 minutes long! The five etudes -- actually an introduction and four etudes -- were composed in 1962 as a work for the Jazz Jamboree Festival during the same year. Its premiere, however, was at the Warsaw Philharmonic. This recording was actually recorded not in Poland, but in America for Metronome; there wasn't a Polish label that would take it. It is important to note that the composition was written independently of choreography, which was added later by Jerzy Gruca. The band is comprised of Komeda on piano, Michael Urbaniak on tenor, Wanda Warska on wordless vocals, Eje Thelin on trombone, Zbigniew Namyslowski on alto, Roman "Gucio" Dylag on bass, and Rune Carlson on drums. It's hard to conceive this is a ballet, since it is a suite in the purest, Ellingtonian jazz manner, even as it reminds one of the more extended Miles/Gil Evans collaborations. Dynamics, tempo, timbre, pitch, and rhythmic intensity are the keys here as they combine with a modalism that would be evoked everywhere a year or so later as "third stream." The introduction is a dramatic theme, stated slowly and prominently, giving all the colors in the spectrum and introducing the kind of texture the etudes themselves evoke. In the first etude, there is the trombone and alto line echoed by the tenor in a lilting though piercing tone. Movement is delineated not by time, but by space. The second quotes Miles' "So What" and "All Blues" in depth, by enveloping them in the harmonic architecture of the movement. The third echoes Komeda's classical roots with Warska's wordless, haunting singing, an overall tight construction, and themes and their variations forming a whole. And, finally, the traces of Ellington return in the final etude, where Urbaniak sounds as if Ben Webster was his mentor in the way he plays a ballad. Komeda's playing is all large yet spare chords, and the rhythm section shimmers through all the piece's tempo and key changes (six in just under four minutes). In sum, "Ballet Etudes" is a major work in jazz, as groundbreaking and inimitable as the work of Komeda's mentors, yet bearing a signature that was distinctly his own. It is a shame and a crime that this work has not become a part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's repertoire. But that wouldn't be American, would it? A classic even if the CD's a ripoff.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek