Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ensemble 56 at Harris (21.05)

by Krzysztof Penarski
It was supposed to be tha last day before the end of the Universe, but if you are reading this I guess the Apocalypse didn't happen. 
Ensemble 56 trio had a long run with Attilla Dora (great cd for Not Two "1st Year of the Dragon") but now the sax spot is a loose one and different musicians are playing with the core of Rafal Mazur (acoustic bass guitar) and Mieczyslaw Gorka (drums). Marek Stryszowski (who used to play with Gorka in the Laboratorium -  polish fusion band, in the 70s) was to fill the spot on this particular evening (just 2nd concert with the group) and I had mixed feelings about this. The particular synergy this group had (oversimplyfying the description for the sake of argument) was the three-directional tension between the band's members - with Gorka's fusion experience showing up in the tendency for solid and stable rock grooves or at least accents every once in a while, with Mazur's dense and dark style, with Dora's inclination towards sonorus experimentation and minimalism. With the change on saxophone spot the risk of loosing this equilibrium was great, but in improvised music new is also chance for something spontaneous and surprising so I was still curious about this performance.

The first set was really great. Marek Styszowski, while his playing is rooted in post-bop language, can be very expressive, and reach over the standard scale with some overblown shrieks on the alto saxophone - energetic and powerfull. Rhythmic intervallic jumps or the circling, swift lines - there's a nice narrations to his solos and enough variety to keep a listener on his toes. He also plays flute (some overtones) - creating an ethnic aura which is complemented well by Mieczyslaw Gorka percussion and toy-objects subtle play. And he sings (wordless vocalisations, flamenco-like cries, shrieks) which is definitely a new element to this group's sound and is a good surprise.
by Krzysztof Penarski

The second set however, an exception to general rule ('the 2nd set is always better') was quite dissapointing. It started with a forgettable EWI solo - both the sound and dynamic flatness and inexpressivity (and retro-fusion sound) of this instrument leave me totally indifferent. The choir harmonizer effect seems a bit too much in my oppinion either (I can enjoy Weather Report but those kinds of sounds are simply old and cliche now). It's not all bad as there was another engaging vocal improvisation and a passionate sax solo. Also a fun and funky-groove piece which, while bit too obvious, was also hard to resist to be enjoyed. The "Ultimate" final track is a peacefull and gentle ballad on soprano, with, fortunately, subtle and colourfull support by the rhythm section keeping it from getting (God forbid) too smooth or new-age.

I might have put too much focus on the Marek Stryszowski here, but since he was the new element in the group (and he plays the leading instrument) he had a crucial impact on the general outcome of the evening. Plus I had many occasions to write about both Rafal and Mieczyslaw recently so let me just add to that the chemistry they developed is a pleasure to watch and listen to. 
While not entirely successfull it still was a solid gig (especially the first half of it). I hope Ensemble 56 will continue its journey.

Ensemble 56
Marek Stryszowski - alto sax, soprano sax, EWI, flute, alto flute, vocal, percussion
Rafal Mazur - acoustic bass guitar
Mieczyslaw Gorka - drums, percussion

Harriss Piano Jazz Bar. Krakow. 21.05.2011

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