The Wojtek Justyna TreeOH! at Jazz Schmiede, Düsseldorf

The Polish guitarist, alumnus of the jazz department at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, played a fusion of jazz-rock and world music

Wojtek Justyna TreeOH!

Snowdrops have slithered out from frosty patches beside the Düsseldorf pavement. Inside the Jazz Schmiede, neat rows of bald patches are glinting in the dim light. It’s a packed house of around 150 people. In a patch of orange spotlight on the front-left corner of the stage, Wojtek Justyna is tuning two guitars. His bald head is covered by a white beret. He lopes off stage.

The Polish bandleader soon reappears toting a smartphone to film snippets for social media, pursued by his four-person TreeOh!. The group bills itself as “funk on the bottom, world jazz on top”. Bassist Daniel Lottersberger is Austrian. Drummer Alex Bernath grew up in nearby Cologne. Percussionist and synth player Diogo Carvalho is Portuguese – and wears a red Benfica soccer shirt. “We’ve known each other for 20 years,” Justyna says. “We can finish each other’s musical sentences. But we keep it fresh.”

Justyna’s sound is full-bodied, with lots of sliding shapes and bending strings. Wafrobeat gets the audience acquainted with his instrumental voice early in the show. It features on the group’s third album (Thrice, 2022) and takes a typically multi-sided form. “I like when tunes develop,” he says. “With motifs that go on a whole journey, like characters in a book.”

Carvalho’s inventive playing adds valuable textures to each song. He enriches the second set with his balafon, a xylophone from West Africa. It’s an instrument with a hollowed-out sound that gets showcased on Chocolate City. During a raucous ending, Carvalho wins the night’s biggest cheer by wielding mallets with his left hand while playing synth with his right.

Later, Lottersberger grabs his phone to feed a balafon solo to the hashtaggers. The group finishes with Two Rivers, from their first album Definitely Something (2015). There are big smiles and plenty of chuckling on stage as the track twists and transforms. “We have running jokes and little things that we do sometimes just to mess with each other,” Justyna says. “That comes from the camaraderie we’ve developed over the years. It’s the joy of playing together.”

That jokey journey is set to continue. Tour dates are planned. A new album is in the works. When the Schmiede’s dim lights brighten, Justyna stands near the exit chatting to patrons as they zip up coats and drift away into the frost. “That’s what we like to see, those smiling faces,” he says, with a glint in his eye and a beret on his lap. “That’s our input into the world.”

The Wojtek Justyna TreeOH! at Jazz Schmiede, Düsseldorf, February 2024