The Beat Freaks ‘Stay Calm’ CD (Self-released) 4/5

‘Stay Calm’ is the new album release by Polish jazz quartet, The Beat Freaks. Initially founded in 2014 by bandleader and guitarist Michał Starkiewicz who would go on to recruit members including bassist Paweł Grzesiuk, drummer Radek Wośko and tenor saxophonist Tomasz Licak, the band’s warmly received debut record followed in 2016. Finding its home on the Danish label and distribution company Gateway Music in October 2016, ‘Leon’ gave birth to, not only the band’s debut recording but also to the life of Leon Kokakiewicz – albeit an entirely fictional character, Leon Kokakiewicz’s idealistic and pioneering successes found themselves the subject of The Beat Freaks’ compositions and lovingly explored over the course of the album’s nine tracks.

But from seeking inspiration from the life and times of (the fictitious) Leon Kokakiewicz for ‘Leon’, three years later the collective opt to seek their inspiration now from… wait for it… Charles Babbage’s early 19th century innovations of an automatic mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions. As if you needed me to tell you, we are of course discussing the “difference engine”.

Maybe this was the logical next step for The Beat Freaks, maybe it wasn’t, who’s to say? Either way, it’s pretty difficult to argue with the results wherever Starkiewicz and company opt to seek their inspiration.

The tracklist for ‘Stay Calm’ really seems to take the theme even further however with strong connotations of the compulsory need to look forward to a bold and bright future, but perhaps still being fearful of what that future holds. Tracks like ‘First Steps on a Lonely Planet’, ‘Memories From an old Town’ and perhaps the self-referential numbers ‘Difference Engine’ and ‘Steampunk’; the latter of which in of itself calls upon the retro-futuristic science fiction fantasy element of technology and design inspired by 19th-century steam-powered machinery.

There’s something really fascinating about the way this whole project unfolds, like the story within the story.

And of course, there’s the music itself: ‘Work At Heights’ dictates a great pace throughout with Starkiewicz’s guitar riffs, the relatively short ‘Chasing Olivier’ packs in so much energy, aided largely through Tomasz Licak’s screaming saxophone, while ‘Tree of Infinity’ soars through the playfulness of its composition.

As frequent live performers – having graced stages at Jazz na BOK-u 2018, the Hanza Jazz Festival in 2017, as well as Copenhagen’s Christiania Jazz Club and various venues around Poland – The Beat Freaks seem to constantly thrive under the pressure of a new challenge with the stakes rising for each new project. Whether their muses lead them to fictitious personalities, innovations of mechanical calculations or the scoring of the silent movie ‘Zamoyski’, with great intrigue we wait to see what The Beat Freaks will do next.

Imran Mirza

Stay Calm Tour 2020:
MAR 19 Sopot, Poland
MAR 20 Włocławek, Poland
MAR 21 Olsztyn, Poland
MAR 22 Szczecin, Poland
APR 23 Kraków, Poland
APR 24 Łódź, Poland
APR 25 Warsaw, Poland
APR 26 Staszów, Poland
APR 27 Skawina, Poland