Daniel Pogorzelski Quartet, Taunton

Pogorzelski is a Christian inspired by the spiritual aspect of John Coltrane's music, here playing the latter without direct imitation

The Daniel Pogorzelski Quartet at CICCIC, Taunton, 14 May 2023

At the end of the gig, during a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, CICCIC founding director Andrew Knutt quipped “Do give up the day job!” Daniel Pogorzelski works as a professional woodwind instrument technician, but he can play tenor and soprano saxophones superbly as well as ministering to them, and it was clear that everyone who heard the band here was hoping they will be performing more often.

The session was billed as “Love Supreme: a Celebration of the Music of John Coltrane”. Trane’s influence has been almost everywhere for decades and is often blatantly obvious. What impressed me from the start here was how well the band evoked the spirit of Coltrane and the “classic quartet” without simply imitating them. This is, to a significant extent, a consequence of their respect for Trane’s moral/philosophical stance. Pogorzelski told me “I love the spiritual side of his music. It really speaks to me.”

The first set concentrated on tunes featured on some of the classic albums for Atlantic, including Equinox from Coltrane’s Sound and Everytime We Say Goodbye from My Favorite Things, as well as an exciting version of Good Bait which was in Trane’s repertoire back in his time at Prestige when he was developing the high-speed runs dubbed “sheets of sound” by Ira Gitler: Pogorzelski negotiated his complex improvisation with well-justified assurance. A gorgeous version of the beautiful Naima from Giant Steps was saved for the second set, which also included Spiritual and a couple of sections of A Love Supreme from the Impulse years. During this set Pogorzelski spoke sincerely about Trane’s beliefs and read several quotes, including the one about wanting to give listeners a picture of the wonderful things an artist knows of and senses in the universe.

Talking to quartet members after the gig the importance of this spiritual side of Trane’s legacy was clear. Pogorzelski and bassist Federico Leonori are both Christians, pianist Nick Strong said he believes in something but is “not sure what” and drummer Jon Whitfield is open to that facet of the music. For Pogorzelski this viewpoint derives at least partly from the situation in Poland when he was growing up. The country was emerging from the restrictions of the Stalinist/Communist era (when people had gone to jail for playing jazz) but both sheet music and recordings were hard to come by and very expensive. During his teens a friend introduced him to Coltrane’s music at a library, virtually the only way to access it, and he heard Impressions and Giant Steps: “I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep for a day or two, the music was so much in my head. At this time everyone in Poland was anxious to engage with everything cultural from the West. The jazz scene in Poland was pretty good in the 80s and 90s. I saw Billy Harper, and thought ‘Wow, he’s inspired by Coltrane’ so I discovered Coltrane more.”

Each member of the quartet played with conviction and sincerity, displaying intensity and sensitivity as the tunes required, gelling superbly as a unit and delivering well-turned solos. Given their confident and instinctual rapport I was surprised to hear that the quartet has only been together for a few weeks. Pogorzelski told me “We just got together to jam a couple of months ago, but then I heard how Nick played and had such a vibe of McCoy Tyner so we said ‘Why don’t we try some Coltrane?’ Then I asked Andrew if he would give us a gig, so we get the gig and I get in touch with Jon, who I know very well from other projects, like a Cuban fusion band and whatever gig comes along!

“I knew Federico through a friend based in Bristol. They did some recording together playing avant-garde music. My friend reminded me about Federico so I gave him a call and he was up for it, so we met a month ago.” 

I asked what had first turned them on to Trane’s music and all the band members mentioned Giant Steps but Pogorzelski stressed “I love all of his stuff. As a musician you just cannot not appreciate him and his exquisite way of playing. I believe very sincerely that music should be emotional and you can do a lot of good with music. It’s a universal language.”

Strong commented that a big part of the effectiveness of the music was McCoy Tyner’s input. “He started to introduce a lot of fourths. They were very conscious of what they were doing harmonically and the fourths and the way those fourths move around was a big concept with them.” It was Tyner who introduced the piano vamps that made, most notably, My Favorite Things so popular and enduring.

The band’s approach is thoughtful yet emotionally exciting. If you get the chance to hear them, grab it!

The Daniel Pogorzelski Quartet at CICCIC (Creative Innovation Centre Community Interest Company), Taunton, 14 May 2023

Some biographical stuff:

Pogorzelski studied with the distinguished saxophonist Piotr Baron and took part in numerous fusion projects and avant-garde experiments but, as this session amply demonstrated, he can play simon-pure jazz with intense conviction.

Strong plays several instruments but is most at home on the piano. He had a classical training but has long been involved in jazz. He has also featured with Motown-style soul outfit The Earthquakes and held several residencies in Brighton with funk/jazz outfits including the East Brighton Rhythm Section.

Leonori started on bass guitar in his teens but a chance discovery of Charles Mingus inspired him to switch to jazz and the double bass. He studied classical bass in Rome, his hometown, graduating under the guidance of leading European bass players Daniele Roccato. He also has studied with John Abercrombie, Uri Caine, Cameron Brown, Eddie Gomez and Dave Liebman amongst others.

Whitfield is an educator from Bolton, now living in south-west England. After graduating in jazz at Leeds College of Music Jon worked throughout Europe and the USA and has played and recorded with, amongst others, Jim Mullen, Alan Barnes, Peter King and Julia Fordham.