I have been a little bit slow in learning essential elements of the Polish language. For example cardinal numbers (and their female and neuter forms), days of the week, and months.
This month is Listopad, and it only recently dawned upon me the reason why a jazz festival in WrocÅ‚aw for November would be called “Jazztopad.”
Anyway, two Fridays ago was the opening night of IV Festiwal JAZZTOPAD, and so I went to the concert hall to hear Adam Makowicz play piano with the WrocÅ‚aw chamber orchestra.
On the programme this evening were jazz improvisations of Chopin, and some of Makowicz’s own compositions, all with string accompaniment. However, to start the concert, the chamber orchestra played a suite by Edvard Grieg. This piece was just beautiful and a pleasure to listen to. After this very enjoyable introduction, the pianist came onto stage amid enthusiastic applause from the audience. Everyone seemed to be looking forward hearing him play, myself included.
First song was Chopin’s Prelude no. 4, Op. 28. I have to say I was quite overwhelmed by Makowicz’s version of this piece. To me it seemed like the orchestra and the pianist were playing completely different music at the same time. It was all a bit above my level and, because I don’t know much of Chopin’s music, I didn’t recognize which pieces he was improvising over, until he gave the game away and played most of the prelude pretty much as it was written.
Thankfully, the programme became more accessible to me after their first song. The Chopin improvisations mellowed out a little and Makovich’s own songs “Sunsets Over the Hudson”, “Sky High in Manhatten”, “A Song From My Past”, “Central Park”, were lovely and excellent, and he is really a magical pianist.
The concert ended with a surprising gag. Throughout the night the orchestra’s cellist had been receiving a prominent part in the compositions — since of course they were playing jazz music. So during one section when the cellist (or was it a double bass? Let’s call it a cello) and pianist were jamming away, the conductor and rest of the orchestra sauntered off the stage, chatting with each other, one viola player talking on his phone, etc, leaving the two of them to finish the song. Very amusing. He was quite a funny guy, though his other jokes he told in Polish, so I didn’t understand them. The only other one I got was the old classic… putting his music on the piano upside down.
Of course the crowd called the orchestra back to the stage for an encore. In fact Adam Macowicz was called back a further three times to play, and did he play some wonderful solos! During one song it definitely seemed like the poor cellist was struggling to keep up with the pianist, much to the amusement of the 3rd violinists sitting opposite.
Finally the lights were turned on and we were thrown out of the concert hall… after all the dude was playing the next night, this time duets. It would have been awesome but unfortunately I missed it due to the Poland vs Belgium euro cup qualifier.
Classic Goes Swing
Last Friday I was back in the same place to hear the concert Classic Goes Swing. As the title suggests, this was pieces by Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, and others, played by a string quartet plus a jazz quintet. The quintet including a clarinetist (mastermind of the ensemble) and vibrophonist, as well as piano, bass, drums.
The formula for this evening was to pick a song, for example a movement from The Four Seasons, have the string quartet play the introduction more or less as it usually sounds, then at some point have the drummer and the rest break in with a swing beat, to play the song in a swing fashion. Sometimes they would take turns soloing. Then to end the song the string quartet would rejoin and play the conventional ending.
The result was superb, the melodies were catchy, and the music had a very “cool” sound (but not cool as in “Birth of the Cool”). Crowd favourite was the vibrophonist Karol Szymanowski. He played with three mallets in each hand, which I suppose is unusual. Apparently he has just written a book about his technique. To me it looked like a six-legged spider dancing on the vibrophone. During one of his solos he started comping with his left hand as a jazz pianist does. It was a good sound but led me to the thought that perhaps it would be easier if he just bought an electronic keyboard with a vibro sound, then he would have 10 fingers at his disposal and it would still sound exactly the same. Though it wouldn’t look nearly as spectacular.
The night was capped off by a lively finale. Actually I can’t remember what it was but it involved a some impressive note bending on the clarinet.