Putting an accent on jazz All Souls’ Polish Festival gives each facet its due

November 14, 2007

It’s loud and raucous, soft and introspective, freely experimental and openly nostalgic.

Polish jazz in the 21st Century, in other words, is no more easily categorized than its American counterpart.

That much, at least, was apparent throughout Monday night’s exuberantly freewheeling All Souls’ Polish Jazz Festival, which attracted a standing-room-only audience to the Chopin Theatre on West Division Street. With a fiercely attentive crowd savoring attractions on two stages, this ninth annual event attested not only to the creative vitality of Polish jazz but to its importance in this city.

Poles, Americans and Polish-Americans converged for this event, which featured nearly a dozen bands playing with ample energy and scant inhibition. Though the music veered from the boldly original to the undeniably derivative, the high points outweighed the low.

Organized by the Friends of Cracow Society in Chicago, the fest stands as a Midwestern answer to a similar event that has unfolded in the historic Polish city for more than half a century. Judging by the response to Monday night’s show, the Chicago event may run just as long.

Some of the most exquisite music-making of the night came from the Chicago-based Krzysztof Pabian Jazz Trio, a soft-spoken acoustic group that subtly merged Polish lyricism, Brazilian rhythm and all-American improvisational techniques. To hear bassist Pabian, guitarist Marty Metzger and percussionist Douglas Brush create gently undulating instrumental textures was to realize anew how few jazz ensembles these days dare to play with comparable delicacy and grace.

On the other end of the expressive spectrum, the Maciej Barabasz Quartet aspired to a bracing, hard-charging brand of improvisation that emphasized aggressive rhythm, astringent harmonies and nearly free-form melodic lines.

There was the sound of promise from vocalist Agnieszka Iwanska, who fronted her own quartet in pop-tinged fare. She has a lovely voice, but too much of her set reiterated the same, easy-breezy musical ideas.

There was no denying the good cheer of Wlodek Wander’s Dixie Kings, a somewhat campy outfit that idealized early jazz repertoire (why a retro group would use an electric bass remains a mystery). And Jacek Mroczka’s Lemon Blues reveled in well-worn musical archetypes.

The evening’s headliners came toward the end of the night, when Laboratorium SL proved that fusion lives, at least in this band’s sophisticated, tautly controlled arrangements


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