Friday, March 22, 2013

Interview with Rafal Mazur. Chapter 02

Some sparks filled the air the other night as Rafal Mazur played with Marco Eneidi, hope you won't miss the next chance to see any of the two on stage.
Rafal Mazur already told us how he became a passionate heavy metal fan (chapter 1 of the story to be found here), now's time to tell how he became interested in improvised music.

polish readers can find the entire interview published on

How did you became interested in improvisation?

Aside from being heavy metal fan I was always, and still am, a keen reader. I devour with passion all kinds of books, I love written world. And so in my father’s library I found this book „Everything about jazz” by Joachim Berendt, I’d read without any particular interest till I got to a mini-chapter dedicated to improvisation. I read that jazzmen do this thing so each time they play a tune, they play something different. It was phrased somehow poetically - what a jazzman plays on stage is influenced for example by the audience, so if there were any beautifull ladies in the front row, he might play differently then with someone else sitting there.
I couldn’ really immagine what it was about. In the music school, it’s different, you learn the composition by heart,  and you play it as your teachers tell you to, they’ll show you what is the „right” interpretation. As for rock music, the thing is equally clear, any improvisation element is circumstantial, you’re supposed to play the song on stage as it was recorded on the disc. That’s how the recodring is structured as well, mutlitrack separtely registered, this is all hard studio work, which you try to immitate during the concert., because that’s what people who boutght the cd want to hear. And suddenly I found out that there are people who do something else, it moved my immagination, because somehow I had known before that music can’t be boring like these – that you always play the same thing. And ever since I’m interested in the art of improvisation. 

And I started with jazz. I enlisted to, as soon as it was founded, Krakow’s schoold of „Jazz and Popular Music” and I had bass lessons with Marek Janicki, a fantastic musician who would play jazz as well as solo at philharmony concert hall on double bass – a very strong artistic personality. He showed me many things I wasn’t able to though of before,  none the less the fact I aleady had an instrumentalist high school diploma I got studying the cello. For instance, I obviously knew the letters under the melody notation of any given jazz standard meant the chords, but how to do those one bass? I would have no idea, classical music schools don’t teach any of that. Marek showed me that and thanks to the music knowledge I already had I became quite familiar with it. And I found out that jazz has this „something” to it. My biggest discovery was Thelonious Monk. I have a vast collection of concert recordings and his music still intrigues me the way it used to.

so you did play „standard” jazz?

Many years. Mostly at the club „U Louisa” in Krakow. I learned playing thanks to jazz standards, we had many different bands, there was the whole company of players – Tomasz Kudyk, Marcin Slusarczy, Tomek Grochot, Wieslaw Jamiol. We were young and we’d play a lot in a few places in Krakow – U Luisa, Harris Piano Jazz Bar and few others that don’t exist anymore, I don’t really know what’s happening with most of those guys right now. I played for a moment with Leszek Kulakowski, still a bit clumsy (laughter). I played jazz as some „entertainment” music which I didn’t like too much, those circles would occasionally merge. Many jazzmen played different kinds of music, I don’t know for what reasons, mine were of pure financial necessity.

How did the „improv” circle got started?

This is another simple story. I immagined a cyclical jam sessions. They took places at U Luisa club, anyone could come and we’d play many different thigs – jazz standards as well. Some people would propose more trance moods, with tabla, or zanfona, it was a sort of all-included mesh.
Thos jams existed for a couple of months and at one point were extremely popular. The club was overcrowded, there were so many musicians that they’d play directly from the table they were sitted at, with rhythm section on stage. We’d play till 6 a.m.

"Improwizje" net-label release
But this phenomenon started to subside at one point till it reached a point I’d sit alone under the stage and wait for others to come. There was this night a young guy came and asked me, speaking in english, whether there will be a jam, he’d like to play. I told him [rafal imitates the original reply - a mix and poor english accent] „Jam will be, maybe. But we don’t have a drummer”. And so they wait. The guy, and he would tell me his side of the story many times after that, went to a bar, got a beer, the bartender had to check his ID since he didn’t look 18, he’d sip the beer and get more nervous because of the waiting, I’d though whether to play or not because there seem to be no point to play that night – I didn’t know the guy and I was the only other musician in the club.
So finally, fed up, he came to me and said „Fuck the drummer”. And we’d playtill 2 am, starting with, obviously, thelonious monk. That was Keir. We found an instant connection, it was a blast. Keir stayed and studied in Krakow for the next 2 years.

In the meantime Jurek Wysocki made my acoustic bas guitar. And it was an important moment for me, I used to miss something in the bass guitar. The lack of colour control, the feeling under the finger I had when I played cello, it suits me very well now. 

Anyway, we started playing together a lot with Keir, with many others. We founded initaially a trio, Stability Group, Wojtek Fedkowicz played with us, today he does all those eclectic-electric-fusion things. We played a few concerts in Indigo club where Marek Winiarski saw us. He organised some concerts there back then, we even played once before someone important, although I don’t remember the name.
This was Krakow where the idea about jazz ended with John Coltrane. Evan Parker? We’d had no clue whatsover. Parker could be Charlie Parker. I didn’t know the musicians Marek would present in Krakow. Still, we played on the club’s birthday party as a support and Marek proposed a recording session. We registered the material in Mozg club in Bydgoszcz, the live – recordings was done by Slawek Janicki. And those tapes are lost, it was supposed to be a double cd for the freshly founded Not Two Records.  And those are, in short, the begginigs.

Do you remember other bands you played in in that period?

Shortly before Keir left Poland we founded with Keir a group called Improvisers Ensemble. I played a lot as well with Tomek Choliniewski, Krzysztof Iwanicki, Marzena Lis, young people form the academic circles in Krakow. We explored the vast field of modern music. We practiced in the Solvay (Centre of Modern Art), nearly everyday, in different configurations. I had this duo Apeiron with Marzena. Jazz was gone, I played contemporary music.

Is this when Ensemble 56 came to life?

At one point I started to miss something. Non necesseraily jazz, or the drive thing, but there was this gap I felt. In that time I met at Solvay Mietek Gorka who practiced there as well [drummer of cult polish fusion group Laboratorium in the 80s]. And, thanks to contacts I had with hungarian scene, I met Attila Dora as well. With Rafal Drewniany, who’s not only the audio engineer [Rafal Drewniany is responsbile for the audio realisation of most of the Not Two records] but he played computer – generated music as well with us. We went together to the festival Kontakt in Budapest. We met Zsolt Sores, Toshi Mahikara from Japan and otheres. We had very intense few days, conncerts, jams, rehearsals, performances with dances, other musicians, since morning till late night. We organized in Krakowa Paprika Jam so they could visit us back. That’s how I met Attila.

We put up a band Process with Attila, Rafal Drewniany and Michal Dymny. Yet was I thinking as well about the trio, I wanted it to have those elements that I missed in some of mine quasi-academic projects, but it wasn’t supposed to be a jazz trio, combination of Attila and Mietek seemed a perfect solution. We did a cd, we recorded it right after I got back from Warsaw from workshops with the late Butch Morris. I had fire in my head, the day after we met with Attila and Mietek in Solvay centre and we played the whole day. It was something, form a couple of hours of music recorded we chosed 50-something minutes for our first cd. 

Apeiron release on net-label insubordinations
Let’s get back to presence for a moment, You’re know a curator of Improwizje series, how did it start?

The beginings was prosaic as ever. I was looking for a place to play and that’s how I got to Literki. For some time now I know it makes little sense to talk about singular events. Organising concerts very tiresome, few places are opened for this kind of performance, there are no externel fundings, the budgets are modest and so on. Those types of conversations are always very difficult. Many artists want to play, you have to give a different offer than just „I’d like to play here with my buddy”.

And so I proposed a series of events. Similarly many concerts of this kind were organized by me in Solvay. If there ever is a a musician on tour in the vicinity, I tried to invite him over for one evening. It’s easier and more affordable to do this that way rather the bring here the artists from Paris ro else for just one night. Plus we have now much stronger „circles” of improvising musicians in Poland, there are plenty musiciains in Warsaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Wroclaw.

As I begun this adventure with improvisation there were not so many of us in the country, I didn’t know others that would want to play music like this. There were just a few. Like Robert Piotrowicz, playing still the guitar [musician now mostly active in the field of electroacoustic imprivsation, also the director of the avant-guarde festival Musica Genera].  Mikolaj (Trzaska) was still playing the yass thing or even some rock-jazz stuff with Loskot. I never would have thought that we’d play togethere one days, that it would make sense. There was no improvsing scene in Warsaw as it is now.

In 2004 I went to Warsaw, Michal Libera and Krzysztof Trzewiczek were doing the plain music project. They invited me on the occasion of Louis Sclaivs trio concert with Bruno Chevillon on bass. I was invited, wit two other musicians, for so-called master class workshops. The other two were: Tomasz Duda, whom I met once, briefly, on a jam session in U Muniaka in Krakow while he studied here, and Raphael Roginski.
Bruno decided we’d introduce ourselves and tale after, first we’d play. And so we did, at one point I took out  my bow, hesitantly, and I start bowing my bass guitar. I heard some strange sounds beside me,  I looked up and saw Rapheale doing the same with his guitar. I thought to myself – finally! I’m at home, I’m not alone, nobody’s looking at me as if I’m making a fool of myself. I understood there are others who want to do what I want to to. In the end Bruno Chevillon said we don’t need no master-class. We simply played together for two days.
On next such meeting, led by Le Quan Nih and the piano player Frederic Blondie I got to known Emiter, Michal Gorczynski. At last it turned our ther are more of us here.

in the next (and most probably final) chapter of the interview we'll learn how an improvising artist should be like a martial arts master...

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