Various ‘Jazz in Polish Cinema. Out of the Underground 1958-1967’ 4 CD box set (Jazz on Film Records) 5/5

jazz-in-polish-cinemaThe relationship between jazz and cinema is a multifaceted one and yet some films simply would not have had the impact that they did were it not for the atmospheric music that accompanies it. This is most certainly the case of Polish cinema and this wonderfully annotated, beautifully and sumptuously presented package ticks every box and then some. Above all else, the music sounds fresh and compliments the innovative new directors of the time. Examining such a kaleidoscope of sounds in depth would be near impossible, but an overview of the music on offer does provide the listener/reader with a fascinating insight into how different art forms can both co-exist and indeed flourish side by side.
Arguably, the best known of the films, and by extension the music soundtrack, is the early Roman Polanski film, ‘Knife in the water’. which has a fantastic black and white print. From this ‘Ballad for Bernt’ from 1962 is a wonderful piece of acoustic jazz that is akin in some respects to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi’ from a decade and a half later. There are hints of a Coltranesque influence on ‘Crazy Girl’, from say ‘Coltrane Ballads’ and this is one of the strongest CDs of all.
Jazz entered Poland during the music scene of the 1930s and therefore prior to German rule. Post World War Two it flourished once again as life returned to some semblance of normality. By the mid-1950s new music was on the rise with the 1956 International Festival of Contemporary Music, more commonly known as ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and still in existence today. In August of that same year a first jazz festival was created in Sopot. By 1962/3 the Jamboree festival had introduced ‘third stream’ music and 1964 witnessed the founding of the magazine Jazz Forum which became a new European wide publication. From a similar period the music of Andrzej Trazskowski accompanying a 1965 film by Jerzy Skolimowski impresses and serves as a parallel to film soundtracks of the calibre of ‘Lift to the Scaffold’. Fast forward two more years and the same director returned to a jazz-themed musical setting on ‘Le Départ’ made in French and on this occasion showcasing the music of ace pianist and composer Krzystof Komeda.

Komeda regularly composed music for Polish film directors and this explains the profusion of his work on this revelatory box set. One earlier illustration can be found on a film by Andrzej Wada from 1960, ‘Innocent Sorcerers’ and what is interesting about the line-up here is that trumpeter Tomasz Stanko was only seventeen at the time. The music is at once refined and exhilarating. Among the very earliest recordings one finds a 1959 offering, ‘Night Train’ directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz with the music actually based on an Artie Shaw theme performed by Andrzej Trzakowski.

Terrific black and white photos of the musicians in their prime and scenes from what were then the ‘new wave’ of young Polish directors round off a sublime package that cuts no corners. In particular the film posters of the era are truly spectacular and serve both to convey and showcase the independent nature of the Polish film industry at this embryonic, yet crucial stage in its history.

Tim Stenhouse