[29 March 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Komeda – The Innocent Sorcerer is one of those jazz projects that doesn’t rely on sounding so…you know, jazzy. There isn’t a labored urge to swing the beats, and the band doesn’t play in predictable rounds by passing solos off to one another. And even though it’s a tribute to a long dead composer and bandleader, the original recordings are not treated as unalterable gospel. Reverence and reconstruction comfortably walk hand-in-hand, and the music never grows dull. In fact, it just seems to improve every time you listen to it. Yep, this is another day at the office for Polish saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk and his crack team of contemporary sidekicks, turning the music of Krzysztof Komeda into miniature labyrinths.
Since Komeda was considered something of a Duke Ellington for cinema in his homeland, his work is probably considered sacred by many. He was certainly an accomplished individual. He managed to 1) skirt the anti-jazz communist regime, 2) become an ear, nose and throat doctor, and 3) compose music for the films of Ingmar Bergman and Roman Polanski, dying just days before his 38th birthday. So yes, if you are going to pay homage to such a renaissance man, you better not foul it up. But it certainly helps future generations of Euro-jazz musicians that Komeda left off in an innovative spot for his time. The spirit of experimentation can unfold without any grumbling since Krzysztof probably would have wanted it that way.
Komeda – The Innocent Sorcerer is the sort of album that skims the surface with intact melodies, like with “Crazy Girl” and “Roman II”, while puncturing that surface with such plaintive and exploratory moments that make you wonder why Pieronczyk’s quintet isn’t headlining festivals or something of that nature. The straight reading of “Sleep Safe and Warm”, (it’s the one track that does not give co-writing credit to Pieronczyk) from the Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby, is one of those stop-dead moments in music where genre labels just slip away. As Nelson Veras delicately plucks his guitar and Pieronczyk flutters about, a typewriter is snuck into the mix. What’s that typewriter doing there? I don’t know, I’ll have to watch the movie now. It’s a solitary sound, though, a muttering voice in an empty room.
And if you have spent any length of time listening to the likes of Liberty Ellman, you know that the nylon stringed guitar makes for a compelling jazz instrument when played deftly. Veras have the touch. And his performance on “After the Catastrophe”, no matter how subtle, can never be lost on even the passive listener. It’s one of those many aspects of Komeda – The Innocent Sorcerer that gives the proceedings an overall classy shade, a finesse that western-centric trad-jazz forgets about too easily.
Pieronczyk has co-writing credits on all but the aforementioned “Sleep Safe and Warm”, which is solely attributed to Krzysztof Komeda. But the arguments of who-tweaked-what-passage can happily be reduced to hair splitting. Whether you feel like classifying it as jazz, film music, homage, or reinterpretations is of no importance. Adam Pieronczyk has impressive sense of vision, and Komeda – The Innocent Sorcerer is a marvel all by itself.