Liberation Via the Janczarski-McCraven Quintet

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LIBERATOR / GADJA: The Torn Veil. Daddy’s Bounce. Love Is. JANCZARSKI: The Spark (for Jasia). SHAW: Sweet Love of Mine. McCRAVEN: Hambone/Intertwining Spirits. ECKSTINE: I Want to Talk About You / Borys Janczarski, t-sax; Stephen McCraven, dm/body; Rasul Siddik, tp/fl/perc/voc; Joanna Gajda, pn; Adam Kowalewski, bs / Fortune 2018 (live: Warsaw, 11/15/2016 & 12/9/2016).

The Janczarski-McCraven Quintet, whose wonderful CD Traveling East-West I reviewed in September of 2016, is back again with this latest offering. The results are equally fine, in part because the group is still intact—each of their members are the same.

On this disc, we get one piece each by the co-leaders but three by the pianist Joanna Gajda, and it is her tune The Torn Veil that leads off the album. It opens with soft percussion rumbles, setting the mood, before moving into the slow-moving, Eastern-sounding theme, in which the trumpet and tenor sax interweave spellbinding figures. The former instrument becomes busier as the latter remains calm, at least for a while, with the rhythm sounding free-form and defying metric boundaries. This group as indeed grown even more open in its approach to jazz, creating textures and feelings as they wend their way along. Liberated jazz, indeed! Finally, pianist Gadja enters, playing what sounds like a 7/4 beat, and the band falls in behind her, kicking up the tempo and swinging with a nice, relaxed beat. McCraven’s drums are particularly good, keeping the beat loose, feeding the band just the right licks at the right time to keep thing moving. Janczarski’s tenor solo has that kind of laser-focused sound that reminded me of certain tenor players from the 1960s, and as usual, his improvisation is structured and relaxed. Siddik, by contrast, is busier and wilder, taking enormous risks in his solo and generally pulling them off well. The live setting seems to inspire the band to more stretching-out than I heard in the studio-recorded album. Gajda’s solo is somewhat relaxed but also quite explorative.

This is followed by Janczarski’s The Spark (for Jasia), a lovely ballad with an especially well-defined melody. (This is one thing that sometimes irks me with jazz groups nowadays; in an effort to sound “original,” too few of them write actual melodies any more). Janczarski moves seamlessly into his solo from there, with Siddik playing long harmony notes behind his second chorus. Gadja then follows in a ruminative mood. Next up is Woody Shaw’s Sweet Love of Mine, played here with a quasi-Latin beat, the band again relaxed and inventive. Siddik is first up on this one, and his solo is truly outstanding, followed in turn by Janczarski in an energetic and well-crafted solo, leaning on some blue notes for emphasis. McCraven has some wonderful drum breaks in the following ensemble chorus. This band really cooks. Daddy’s Bounce isn’t quite as bouncy as you might think, but a laid-back jazz waltz with Gadja leading the way on piano. Kowalewski finally gets a brief solo in this one before the saxist enters, also in a relaxed mood. Solos and ensemble choruses follow, adding up to a nice piece.

At this juncture we hear McCraven clapping, slapping his mouth with his palm and making body sounds in the old tune Hambone, with Siddik doing the vocal, before an out-of-tempo piano flurry moves us into the funky original Intertwining Spirits, taken at a loping sort of calypso pace. Janczarski is all over this one, blowing bluesy figures with strength and conviction, eventually playing some twisting, rapid-fire triplets which include overblown notes…sort of a cousin to Sonny Rollins’ Saint Thomas. And finally, Kowalewski gets a full chorus solo before the co-leader returns on sax to ride it out gently.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Billy Eckstine’s I Want to Talk About You, a nice ballad with a vocal by Siddik. He’s no Eckstine but he does a pretty nice job. Janczarski is also quite relaxed on this one, his tone warm and ingratiating. The closer, Love Is, is a nice relaxed samba by Gadja with the pianist again leading off with the pretty theme. A nice ending to a wonderful CD!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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