"The reception of Polish jazz on the world is very very big. People don't say there is a Hungarian scene of jazz, or a Czechslovakian, or an Austrian jazz scene. But Polish jazz, everyone knows what it is, and a few artists, like Michael Urbanyek, Tomasz Stanko and Krystosf Komeda."
Sebastian Jóźwiak from EABS
Jazz and the Soviet Union sound like terms so diametrically opposed they could never cross paths. While art in the latter required strict adherence to kitschy propaganda, the former has always been about decadence and freedom. What's more, jazz is American by definition, created with the black American experience of slavery at its core.
The idea, then, that such a music could have flourished behind the iron curtain sounds pretty unlikely. But thrive it did, becoming the music that would slake the thirst of a youth and underground obsessed with all things Western during the long dark years of Soviet rule. As one of my guests in this feature, Marek Pędziwiatr told me: "Jazz music was like the breath, the air, the wind coming from the west. Freedom, that was it."
Of all the jazz that was made in 20th century Eastern Europe, the musicians coming out of Poland are undoubtedly the most celebrated. This documentary takes a look at the country's fascinating obsession with jazz and the artists working today to express their national identity through their sound.
I spoke with Mateusz Surma and Adrian Magrys from Lanquidity Records, a pair of curators and collectors who have been reissuing niche Polish cuts and supporting new Polish bands from their base in London for years. They told me about some classics of the genre, their Polish jazz heroes – Michael Urbanyek, Tomasz Stanko and Krystosf Komeda to name a few – and just how the music managed to take hold in the country.
I also chatted to pianist Marek Pędziwiatr and executive producer Sebastian Jóźwiak of EABS, a septet from Wrocław, whose obsession with the jazz culture of their country spawned a look back at Komeda's work on the 2017 album, Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda). More recently, they put out the hugely ambitious record, Slavic Spirits. It's an album that draws on the country’s and region's past, taking in everything from philosophy to folklore, to create a work of incredible depth: a sonic assertion of their cultural identity. We spoke about the new record and the impressive amount of research that went into it, taking us to the beating heart of Poland's modern jazz scene.
EABS' 2019 record, Slavic Spirits
EABS - Leszy (Slavic Spirits // Astigmatic Records)
Krzysztof Komeda - Ballet Etudes: I (Ballet Etudes // Trunk Records)
Tomasz Stanko - Kattorna (Lontano // ECM Records)
Dave Brubeck - Dzieukje (Thank You) (Two Generations of Brubeck // Wounded Bird)
Tomasz Stanko - Soul of things 2 (Soul of Things // ECM Records)
Krzysztof Komeda - Astigmatic (Astigmatic // Polskie Nagrania Muza)
EABS - Free Witch and No Bra Queen / Sult feat. Michal Urbaniak (Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda) // Astigmatic Records)
EABS - Południca (Slavic Spirits // Astigmatic Records)
EABS - Przywitanie Słońca (Slavic Spirits // Astigmatic Records)