[16 April 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Grzegorz Lesiak got to jazz guitar the hard way. A career in the Polish and Ukrainian folk circuit was abruptly interrupted by a 2003 car wreck, hospitalizing Lesiak for a time. After his recovery, he decided to muscially start all over from scratch. That’s when he tapped into the fertile Polish jazz scene with saxophonist Tomasz Piątek, bassist Łukasz Downar and drummer Krzysztof Redas to form Tatvamasi (a word crammed from three other words in Sanskrit, translating to “that thou art”). Their debut album Parts of the Entirety does more than just hold a great deal of promise. Straight out of the gate, they’re an awfully convincing act.
Tatvamasi may have been started by a guitarist but Lesiak’s instrument is not the dominant one. Like many great contemporary jazz ensembles, all of the members are deftly mixed with no sign of strain or compromise. Grzegorz Lesiak still likes his effects and periodically uses the guitar in unorthodox ways, but these ticks still don’t give the impression that Parts of the Entirety is a guitar album. The rhythm section interaction can easily be taken for granted given how easily Redas can skip a beat, change a meter, alter a pattern and slide right back alongside Downar as if they were playing Cars covers. Łukasz Downar’s fat, stable sound makes it all the more reassuring. Piątek plays the roll of team player instead of a soloist sitting in a band. His musical sense of interlock is on par with everyone else’s. Coltrane he is not and Coltrane he shouldn’t be.
Parts of the Entirety deals out all of modern jazz’s best traits—playful performances, major/minor key ambivalence, asymmetric song shapes and the occasional art of the unlikely melody (likely owing to Lesiak’s days as a folk musician). “Shape Suggestion” revolves around this spastic roll of notes that Lesiak unfurls with less-than-stellar precision, but still gives the piece the spunky spike on which it depends. On “Collapse Of Time” and “Rhubanabarb” he twists the guitar’s tone with wahs and volume swells. “An Eccentric Introvert In a Study Filled With Broken Mirrors” doesn’t sound as convoluted as the title may suggest. It’s all-over-the-place guitar introduction is soon overshadowed by the rapid and delightful cha-cha. Tomasz Piątek is then free to lay down a smooth melody. It’s the sound of things coming together. Better than The A-Team.
As good as Tatvamasi are at what they do and as sturdy a release as Parts of the Entirety is, there’s still something holding it back from being as essential classic for the ages. It could be that there is much more to this terrain that Tatvamasi has yet to explore. They can get funky, but they don’t transcend the jazz-funk barriers. As musicians, they balance their chops with taste quite well, yet they shy away from negative space. They are good soloists, but their solos do not transform the music. And that’s all just fine. I think it’s almost tragic when a band peaks early. What do you look forward to after that? Tatvamasi are a no-bull kind of group. May Parts of the Entirety not go down as their peak.