|Agata Kubiak at Jazz Cafe POSK
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska. All Rights Reserved
(Jazz Cafe POSK. Album launch for Polarity. 10th May 2014. Review by Rob Edgar)
Polish singer / composer / violinist Agata Kubiak launched her début album Polarity on Saturday night at the Jazz Cafe POSK. The first thing that was immediately apparent was white booklet placed on each table which contained the set list, and – more importantly – English translations of all the Polish lyrics that were to be sung. Agata mentioned in a previous interview for us (HERE) that she sees words and music as fundamentally connected so this was a nice touch.
It was a varied set: the group opened with the grunge rock classic Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, which was given a more subdued edge. Bassist / arranger Jon Mapp filled in admirably for the lack of guitar with some pleasant, clear strumming; pianist Sam James was really fluid, and his rapport with drummer JJ Wheeler was immediately apparent.
Agata had mentioned in passing that her violin’s distortion pedal had broken down during the soundcheck, but, if anything, that was a blessing: at the end of Black Hole Sun when her fiddle took a repeated motif, she had to dig in close to the bridge, beginning near the heel of the bow to accommodate, and the sound was more honest and effective because of this.
Texture was important too: the Konvalia String Quartet were amply brought to the fore on a number of tunes but never smothered the core group. Peacocks was where they really got to shine: the Jimmy Rowles classic was transformed into a Bartokian lament, with angular melodies, tritone modulations and and harmony which often moved in seconds.
There were a few really stand-out pieces: Czerwone Jabłuszko – a Polish folk-tune – was where Agata was able to really let herself go vocally. Her voice became an impassioned wail with a semi-yodel: very earthy and direct. Sam James later took the lead in a whirlwind of ferocity. It sped up many times towards the end before finishing in a catharsis.
Tom Millar made a guest appearance for an original tune of his called Power Chord Thing which was originally for an ensemble of clarinets. As the title suggests, there was a lot of pounding quintal harmony in the strings peppered with deeply resonant chords which paid close attention to the fundamentals and overtones.
Jej Portret was the piece that really showed the very best of Agata Kubiak. Dedicated to her mother, it began with arpeggiated harmony in the violin (again played sul ponticello), with reverb. She sang with an infectious warmth and delicacy and her improvising was special: lyrical melodies hung on to leading and auxiliary notes for just that little bit longer than expected. Structurally, what most impressed was the way the hook passed gracefully from quartet to piano to violin and back again, giving an impressionistic sense of continuity.
This group’s performance is bound to strengthen after a few more outings – this was in fact their first proper gig as a group. Nevertheless, there were some affecting moments in which their musicality, expressive depth and genuine promise shone through.
I had the pleasure of hearing Agata perform live with her guitarist at The Olde Bell Inn in Hurley (near)Maidehead, Berkshire, for 2015 News Years Eve. Her jazz vocals and dexterity on the violin were both very good, and I look forward to hearing more of her in the very near future…!