Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet ‎’Polka’ Deluxe 2LP/CD/DIG (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

‘Polka’ was originally released in 2014 on Polish jazz label Agora SA on CD but with a differing track list and a year later on vinyl on Mystic Production, a predominantly non-jazz based record label also from Poland, but only containing 9 tracks. But here we have progressive UK label Whirlwind issue a 13-track ‘Worldwide Deluxe Edition’ in all formats including a double vinyl version, but bizarrely with side D containing no audio but a record label etching! This quartet includes trumpeter Oskar Torok, pianist Joanna Duda, tenor saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski and drummers Qba Janicki and Michat Bryndal, all being steered by bandleader Mazolewski, the esteemed upright bassist of numerous previous Polish releases.

Taking inspiration from years of playing around the world, the quartet utilise various places and cities as inspiration throughout the album with the set beginning with ‘Roma’, an introspective drum-less track that centres around piano and trumpet. ‘Grochów’ (a district of Warsaw) is a more ensemble centred piece which immediately grabs your attention via its fluid groove based rhythm and melodic lines and later memorable trumpet and tenor sax solos. The infectious ‘Punk-T Gdańsk’ possesses a more frantic quality and would definitely be a live highlight, as would DJ friendly ‘Sunday’.

‘London’ is in two parts, the bubbling part 1 which then leads into the grinding 7/4 time signature rhythm of part 2, although, with a combined running length of just over 5 and half minutes, a joint composition could have been manifested. ‘Bangkok’ has more subtle and contemplative outlook, being guided by pianist Joanna Duda, while the horn section of trumpet and tenor saxophone generally meander around the piano with further light embellishments of cymbal percussion and an additional expressive trumpet solo during the last third.

Examining ‘Berlin’, one cannot ignore the club and Techno references here. Although by no means an electronic piece of music, the rhythmical trance-like groove is an obvious ode to the city and its renowned nightlife. ‘Paris’ is a more gentle affair and possibly a word one wouldn’t think of regarding the French capital, but this is no lacklustre number as it maintains a thought-provoking sensibility throughout. The now classic Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Theme De Yoyo’ (1970) receives a slightly less frantic reboot on the closing track, which was previously released on a 12” in 2017 on UK-based label Tranquillity.

‘Polka’ proudly fuses established jazz traditions with more contemporary themes and ideas throughout its duration. Containing all original material, the album will appease the traditional jazz fan but also be heralded by the modern jazz listener. The writing, performances and ideas are exceptionally crafted, but possibly many of the pieces are rather short with 7 of the 13 works under 4 minutes – but this is not necessary always a negative. Leader Wojtek Mazolewski is never the centre of attention here and is especially considerate in allowing other members of the group to lead and direct the project. Other than a bass intro on ‘London (Part 1)’, there isn’t not a single bass solo on the entire album.

And it must be noted that without the interest from Whirlwind this album may have not reached an audience outside of those taking an active interest in the Polish jazz movement. Releases like ‘Polka’ still highlight the difficulty that both artists and music fans have in connecting to music outside of the more established music circles and territories, even during this more globally and culturally aware epoch. So this obviously begs the eternal question, what else is out there?

Damian Wilkes