Film music: An icy blast from Poland

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The trumpeter Tomasz Stanko is bringing the ultra-cool sounds of his country's jazz to Camden Town. Nick Coleman revels in some Slavic doom and gloom

If we were to issue prizes for cool in film music then Krzysztof Komeda's score for Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water would surely carry off the Lenny Tristano's Memorial Ice Bucket. Knife in the Water, released in 1962, is largely a film about how people failed to connect, and how forced proximity to each other (in this case on a small yacht on a large Polish lake) is the surest way for individuals to divorce themselves from their emotions.

Komeda's Modernist small group jazz score for the film is unprogrammatic, lyrical and lashed to the narrative only by the common tonality it shares with the surface of Polanski's footage, sky grey. Swedish tenor saxophonist Bernt Rosengren attempts to whip up some interpersonal heat from time to time, but mostly it is a story of spume and Slavic doom, with the three protagonists ducking their responsibilities as vessels of human warmth as perfunctorily as they duck the swinging jib. All very early Sixties and Euro-artful, you may say - and you'd be right. Which is not to say that it isn't a wonderful film and that the music that goes with it is not very beautiful in a grey, doomy, spumey kind of way.

Although he did not play on that particular session, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko did become Komeda's closest collaborator and, in the years before the composer's early death in 1969, his favoured soloist. Some 28 years on, Stanko brings a sextet of players to London's Jazz Cafe next Monday, 20 October, to tackle Komeda's music afresh. The unit includes Stanko's regular pianist Bo Bo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson, drummer Jon Christensen and Bernt Rosengren himself, all of whom worked together on Stanko's brilliant new ECM album Litania - Music of Krzysztof Komeda.

They will be playing both Komeda's film music and his straight jazz compositions and presumably they will be reducing the burghers of Camden Town to a state of neurotic mutual suspicion fuelled by modalism and the existential certainty that when we are together then we are most alone. Or something like that.

On the other hand, it might very well be a warming occasion. Stanko is a remarkable player, broad of tone and phrasing, almost unkempt at times in his efforts to pick the threads in his music and chew them off. Certainly, it was his and Rosengren's determination not to pussy-foot that allowed Komeda's ultra-cool compositions to live a bit; Litania is itself a lively picture in a discreet frame. Its structures elegant, its trajectories low, but its playing a contained mass of billowing energy.

Stanko says that when he set out on Polish jazz's primrose path in the early Sixties, Komeda was the only guy he had any respect for. "He was a big personality," he rasps hipsterishly on the phone from Krakow. "I was 20 and so he was my guru. But he was a very silent guy. Very. He did not comment on our playing. He gave us the structure and form and then let us do our thing.

"He was a good piano player, too. Very under-rated. His big taste was for the Miles Davis, John Coltrane modal style, but if he was like any piano player in particular, it was Andrew Hill."

Komeda has been given credit for giving substance to much of what has come to be known as the "European Jazz aesthetic".

Stanko insists that this was entirely unconscious on Komeda's part and, in as much as he kept his film and straight composition work apart for practical reasons, he saw no reason to theorise about the work in aesthetic terms. He wrote and played it as he felt it.

"He had his own style. It was just natural," says Stanko. "And it is a fact that the two kinds of work he did helped each other - they vibrated together."

Amazingly, this will be Stanko's first appearance as a performer in the UK, not counting a studio appointment he kept with Graham Collier at some unnameable point in the past. He sounds chuffed to be coming to London for its own sake, but more so to be animating his guru's music in a new context. "I want to go deeper and deeper into Komeda," he says. "His depths are fantastic. Fantastic."

`Litania - Music of Krzysztof Komeda' is out on the ECM label distributed by New Note; Tomasz Stanko's septet plays The Jazz Cafe, London NW1, on Mon (0171-344 0044).

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