The Janczarski-Siddik Quartet in Contemplation

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CONTEMPLATION / TYNER: Contemplation. W. SHAW: Sweet Love of Mine. MINGUS: Self-Portrait in Three Colors. J. PEPPER: Witchi Tai To.* CHERRY: Complete Communion. SIDDIK: Dedication. J. HENDERSON: Caribbean Fire Dance / Rasul Siddik, tpt/fl/*voc; Borys Janczarski, t-sax; Michael Jaros, bs; Kazimierz Jonkisz, dm / For Tune Records, no number (live: Warsaw, January 24, 2020)

Tenor saxist Borys Janczarski, whose album with co-leader Stephen McCraven I praised way back in September 2016 (the first year of this blog), returns here with an almost entirely different lineup except for the new co-leader, trumpeter-flautist Rasul Siddik, simply a sideman in 2016.

And except for the fact that both CDs include one composition by Siddik, the focus here is also different, leaning on compositions by famous jazz musicians. The only name I don’t recognize is Jim Pepper, but I would think that most serious jazz listeners are familiar with McCoy Tyner, Woody Shaw, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry and Joe Henderson.

Talk about coincidence! In my review of the Matthew Shipp Trio album I mentioned Tyner as a vastly underrated pianist. As a composer, he was good in a solid 1960s sort of way, and this piece, built on very simple 11-note motifs, is a good example of his work. As in his previous CD, Janczarski’s dry, tubular sound on tenor is reminiscent of ‘60s players as well though again his improvisations are entirely his own. It’s a somewhat “higher” tenor sound than that of Coltrane, but you can tell that Coltrane is one of his main inspirations. He also plays with incredible intensity and, best of all, no rock beats!!! Siddik’s sound and style, on the other hand, are reminiscent of Don Cherry, perhaps with a bit of Woody Shaw thrown in for good measure.

Except for the opening themes which are played in unison by the two horns, this is pretty much a free-blowing date. This almost sounds like the kind of jazz record that would have been issued back in the ‘60s by Impulse! or Blue Note. Pure jazz, devoid of tricks, cutesiness and fooling around. They dive right in and give you the pure stuff, and by that I mean that every note and phrase on this album is played from the gut as much as from the heart.

Woody Shaw’s Sweet Love of Mine, a piece I was not familiar with, is a medium-tempo minor-key swinger, again firmly in the Blue Note tradition. I don’t know if this set was edited for the CD, meaning that some performances were left out, but if it isn’t it surely puts this little band at or near the top of improvising European quartets. Bassist Jaros and drummer Jonkisz don’t fool around, either; they lay down a solid, swinging beat and just keep plugging away at it, with Jonkisz playing some extremely complex patterns as Jaros maintains a solid 4. And all of the solos are interesting; they make musical sense and go somewhere, particularly the leader’s. Jaros gets a solo on this piece, too, and although not flashy it’s right in step with the music. Jonkisz’s solo is wonderfully complex.

The group’s performance of Mingus’ Self-Portrait in Three Colors would have made its composer proud: a warm, loving treatment of the theme and a series of improvisations. Jaros plays bowed bass behind the two horns, as Mingus himself did at times, before launching into a pizzicato solo that starts off the proceedings. Here, Jaros is more imaginative that on Sweet Love of Mine, perhaps inspired by the composer’s own playing on performances of this tune. Pepper’s Witchi Tai To is a simple, funky little piece on which Siddik speak-sings the strange lyrics (printed in the booklet) while Complete Communion is a typical Don Cherry sort of line, sounding very much like the kind of music he made with Ornette Coleman. Siddik’s muted solo is a gem, reminiscent of the way Dizzy would play with a mute in. Janczarski later joins him for a two-way improvisation that is endlessly fascinating.

Siddik’s Dedication is a simple hard bop line taken at a medium tempo, and the composer is the first soloist up. His second chorus is the real gem, inventive and exploratory. Janczarski is slow and meaty in his solo, building slowly but surely to impassioned climaxes. Then comes the drum solo, and it too is a gem.

The closer is Joe Henderson’s Caribbean Fire Dance, which has an irregular pulse at times and a simple but ever-shifting melodic line. Again the solos are excellent and the overall performance, well, fiery. Janczarski tosses in a few Coltrane-like licks.

This is an excellent album for those who are tired of over-fancy arrangements and cute tricks in jazz playing nowadays—a real antidote to the “new” West Coast jazz scene here in the U.S., which seems to be overloaded with tinkly pianists and female jazz singers who whisper songs from the heart. It’s music played with real heart and soul.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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