Jazz violin has a more classical heritage even than jazz piano. Players like Stuff Smith and Billy Bang are outnumbered by more classical stylists such as Eddie South – one of my favourites – and Mateusz Smoczyński. He’s the young virtuoso who performs here with 75-year-old piano master Joachim Kuhn, in what the label describes as “chamber jazz without borders”.
Both players have roots in classical music, but also share the reference point of Polish jazz violinist Zbigniew Seifert, the ecstatic Coltrane stylist who was Kühn’s close friend and musical partner. He died tragically early in 1979, and is a role model for Mateusz Smoczyński. Kühn and Smoczyński first appeared together on stage in 2009 for the Polish premiere of Seifert’s Violin Concerto in Krakow. The violinist is a graduate of Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Music Academy; he was a co-founder of the Atom String Quartet, and member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, 2012-16. He works with his own quintet, and with his New Trio, and has composed the violin concerto Adam’s Apple.
This is a superb album, more successful that Kühn’s recent solo project Melodic Ornette Coleman, I believe – I awarded that three stars, while this gets five. Piano and violin is a conventional combination in classical music, but less familiar in improv. Having stressed the Seifert connection, it must be said that despite its intensity, there’s little very uptempo on this album. The prevalent mood is mournful or at least elegiac and contemplative – a classical, rather ECM-ish vibe. Smoczyński has a beautiful tone on violin, superbly recorded in Kühn’s home studio.
The focus here is on the pianist’s own compositions, which are excellent. Epilog Der Hoffnung, despite its title, is mournful rather than hopeful. Also included are Schubertauster by Vincent Peirani, Rabih Abou-Khalil’s I’m Better Off Without You, and No. 40 from Gurdjieff’s Asian Songs And Rhythms – a gorgeously plangent piece. Paganini is the only uptempo piece on the album, with an out-of-kilter rhythm that gives it a shambolic energy. A compelling conclusion to a remarkable and unusual album.
Epilog Der Hoffnung; Maria; Love And Peace; No. 40; Schubertauster; After The Morning; I’m Better Off Without You; Glückszahl 23; Paganini (44.39)
Kühn (p); Smoczyński (vn). Ibiza, 24-26 April 2019.