Vortex, London, John Fordham, guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 December 2011 18.57 GMT
Born out of struggles with reactionary communist bureaucrats, torn between yearnings for the west and the sounds of its own culture, 20th-century Polish jazz displayed character, originality, erudition and subversive wit – and the country produced giants such as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, not to mention Roman Polanski’s legendary movie-score composer Krzysztof Komeda.
A mini-festival of contemporary Polish jazz, run over the last few days by arts promoters Deconstruction Project, brought the story up to date, introducing some seditious jazz stars of the 21st century, such as pianist Marcin Masecki, synth-accordionist Piotr Kurek and the gifted alto saxophonist Maciej Obara, whose reputation is spreading fast (he’s already booked for the London jazz festival next year).
At the festival’s opening show, which took place at Hackney’s Vortex club, Obara played a long set with a powerful trio that included the pianist Dominik Wania. A compact, barrel-chested young man, weaving and crouching, Obara displayed an inventiveness and stamina that reminded me of the veteran improv master Lee Konitz. Wania, too, is a real find – a superb improviser with the confidence to toy with an audience’s patience. His spacey, tentative opening contributions built up to tumbling melody and muscular chordwork.
The set contained episodes of laid-back swing, free-jazz shufflings, hints of Latin groove and of Ornette Coleman-like freebop. Close to the finale, Wania launched into an unaccompanied solo of jarring contrapuntal lines that were eventually underpinned by a walking bass hook. Obara’s is by inclination a free-jazz group, but it’s one with discipline and a sense of narrative shape – and it set the young audience smiling. British listeners will be hearing a lot more.