Review: Warsaw Summer Jazz Days

Warsaw's Summer Jazz Days festival mixed British, US and Polish artists in an all-jazz programme played to an atypically wide age-range, says Bob Weir

This long-established early July festival owes much of its success to a straightforward structure and good, unfussy organisation. The single 1000-capacity concert hall venue in an attractive Warsaw suburb had three or four bands each night from 7pm to midnight with no subsidiary events. Attendances were always at or near capacity with knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans of a broad age range (noticeably so compared to a typical UK jazz crowd). Another important factor was the astute programming. It was all jazz with no pop singers or fringe styles. There was a pleasing balance of big names and interesting British and Polish bands.

Vijay Iyer, leading a sextet, was a nice change from his more familiar piano trio. His original compositions and arrangements were outstanding. He was democratic in sharing the solo spotlight with his frontline partners - Graham Haynes (c, flh), Steve Lehman (as) and Mark Shim (ts). Polish piano legend, Leszek Mozdzer, presented a Special Project - a quartet with Ambrose Akinmusire (t - pictured right with Mozdzer) plus bass and drums. The two stars blended perfectly and hit the creative heights for an absorbing set of Mozdzer's challenging but always melodically appealing originals.

Brad Mehldau's well-seasoned piano trio with Larry Grenadier (b) and Jeff Ballard (d) always gives good value even when, as on this occasion, there were no significant surprises. His programme of now fairly familiar originals and seldom played standards (Long Ago And Far Away and Since I Fell For You) held the attention with his enchanting harmonic explorations.

Supergroups can disappoint but the stellar lineup of Hudson - John Scofield (elg), John Medeski (kyb), Scott Colley (b) and Jack DeJohnette (d) - was the real deal. They chose to draw on youthful nostalgia with numbers by Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan in fresh treatments and a variety of musical approaches for compelling ensembles, exchanges and brilliant solos. The quartet grooved particularly well when Medeski used Hammond organ and spurred Sco to some of the festival's finest playing.

The strong UK contingent went over very well with the locals who seemed familiar with their history. Binker and Moses - Binker Golding (ts) and Moses Boyd (d) - kicked off the festival in grand bombastic style. They stretched their limited resources almost to breaking point for an unrelenting hour of a furious drum solo with occasional sax interjections. By the end the audience seemed nearly as exhausted as the players. Django Bates with Petter Eldh (b) and Peter Bruun (d) followed with a more considered and diverse programme. Django was his usual quixotic self in a sequence of lovely free-flowing piano solos and as the stimulus for inventive group interplay. Soweto Kinch (ts, ss, kyb - pictured above left) with bass and drums offered his tried-and-tested show of swinging soul jazz and free-style rap. His friendly presentation was particularly popular on a couple of his Brum-Rap specialities with audience participation. GoGo Penguin - Chris Illingworth (p), Nick Blacka (b), Rob Turner (d) - played an agreeable, fairly low-key session of familiar band staples. They clearly satisfied their many Polish admirers, notably on a long workout on Home.

Some lesser-known US groups were showcased at the festival. The best of them was Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense from NYC (trumpet with guitar and rhythm trio). The leader impressed in melodic Woody Shaw mode and more freely when the drummer switched to tabla and exotic percussion. The Cameron Graves Trio's thrash-jazz was consistently exciting with clever interplay from the leader's keyboards and Mike Mitchell's powerhouse drumming. Max Gerl on bass was the pivot for an upbeat set. Dayna Stephens (pictured right) led his group for a session of rhapsodic tenor sax with strong support from the skilful drumming of Greg Hutchinson and accomplished piano and bass. Altogether, a masterclass of taste and swing.

The festival programme was completed by a couple of talented Polish bands. The piano/violin duo of Franciszek Raczkowski and Mikolaj Kostka blended nicely on a short but always stimulating set. The young Lukasz Kokoszko Quartet, although the least renowned at the festival, surprised with a quietly reflective display of guitar and rhythm trio improvising. From a tentative start they delivered a cleverly creative session which fully merited their inclusion. 

Information about next year will be posted at AdamiakJazz.

Photos by Marcin Pulawski

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