In Ravenscourt Park, that no man’s land between Hammersmith and Chiswick, sits a low-rise, austere grey-and-white building from the early 1970’s, POSK, the Polish Cultural Centre. It takes its role in the community with intense but justifiable seriousness: the first sight which greets you on entering the building is a board covered with A4-size Metropolitan Police posters for missing persons and unsolved murders.
But on Fridays and Saturdays its split-level basement cavern is home to a very welcoming jazz club, Jazz Café Posk. Posters from long-forgotten Polish jazz festivals cover the walls. A shiny disco ball suspended from the bright red ceiling suggests steamier evenings. The jazz club is, proudly, about to celebrate its second anniversary under the friendly guidance of Marek Greliak.
Greliak, a theatre designer by training, has lived in the UK for about thirty years. And he loves jazz. Unfortunately for him, he never actually gets to see the bands properly. “Someone has to take the money,” he shrugs. His musical background? “A bad drummer.” Why does he promote jazz? “I admire the musicians. Jazz is just great. It’s always fresh.”
The admission price, £5, is modest. Greliak succeeds in one aim, which is to give London’s hard-working Polish community a good cheap night out. And Polish people who know a thing or two about extreme winters, were certainly not going to be put off this Saturday by what Londoners would think of as a bitterly cold evening.
A good vantage point to watch the band is the short, wide flight of stairs between the lower level, where the bands play, and the higher level with its well-stocked and friendly bar. Young people of both sexes happily and attractively drape themselves over these stairs, drink in hand.
Greliak’s best night since he started? “No question. The first anniversary, with guitarist Jarek Smietana”. Smietana filled the 200-capacity room to bursting. “We had to turn 50 people away.”
Greliak is looking forward to inviting Smietana back for the second anniversary in March. He has a great band booked to play with Smietana – no names yet. Greliak also suggests- with a twinkle in his eye- that there will be some VERY special guests.
The gig I heard was by a band new to me, Paragon. An Anglo-German band formed by Peter Ehwald and Arthur Lea in 2003, the year when they were both students on the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music. Ehwald had taken an elective year to study with Julian Arguelles.
It was joyous and heartening to discover that Ehwald had been utterly insistent on being able to study with Arguelles, whose originality and strong voice is one of the very best, but also one of the best-kept secrets of jazz in Britain. Arguelles’ playing had somehow left a strong impression on the ears and on the ambitions of Ehwald as a young and aspiring young music student in Cologne. If only miracles like this could happen more often for British jazz musicians.
Ehwald is now based in Berlin, two of the others in London, and one in Brooklyn, but Paragon’s four members somehow do the mileage to get together , and to continue Paragon as what Ehwald calls “a proper working band”. The group plays highly complex original material. But Paragon seem to have these tunes thoroughly lodged in their memory and under their fingers. Only one music stand was in evidence, and I never saw any of the players’ eyes drifting down to it for reassurance. Ehwald has a prodigious saxophone technique and a fine ear, particularly in his frequent excursions into altissimo, but his most natural voice seemed to me to emerge in the more thoughtful and expressive moments.
The band’s compositions are by Ehwald and Lea. There’s an interesting attraction of opposites here. Whereas Lea is inspired to to put pen to stave by, for example, the birth of a niece, Ehwald’s compositions originate from , say, anger at the extortionate rental contract on a flat in Cologne in “Never Rent a Flat,” and a short-lived crisis about the decision whether to devote his career to music.
Pianist Lea also plays beautiful, lyrical tenor horn. For me, his and Ehwald’s unrushed, uncluttered and highly melodic duetting on “Mixed Mode” was a highlight of the gig.
Matthias Novak on bass and John Scott on drums played strongly. Reactions were generally so intuitive and quick that the band seemed to be able move convincingly, and with one collective mind into each new feel.
An enjoyable evening with a sizeable but very supportive audience of real listeners. And for me the first-time discovery of a venue close to where I live, which I will definitely be recommending again.