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Summer Jazz Festival Kraków 2022

Summer Jazz Festival Kraków 2022
(Kraków. 25 June-31 July 2022. Round-up report by Izzy Blankfield)

John Scofield’s ‘Yankee Go Home’ quartet at the Kijów Centrum. Photo credit: Wojtek Łyko

Kraków’s annual summer jazz festival is the city’s music scene at its best. The festival, organised by Witold Wnuk, is now in its 27th year and is only growing in range and renown. With more than 130 concerts and 400 artists, the month-long festival showcased some of the best international jazz talent, as well as the spirit of community and connection at the heart of music in Kraków.

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This year’s headliners included the Kenny Garrett Quintet, Karen Edwards Trio, Adam Bałdych Quartet feat. Paolo Fresu, Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio and Nigel Kennedy Band feat. Mike Stern.

Larger venues such as the Filharmonia Krakowska and the Kijów Centrum hosted most headline acts, while Kraków’s legendary cellar bars, Piwnica pod Baranami and Harris Piano Bar, were the setting for daily late-night gigs. The festival also saw performances in the city’s main square and several art galleries, as well as in the Globus Music Club, opened earlier this year by Witold and Janina Wnuk.

This was a festival that rejoiced in the contrasts it presented. Wednesday 27 July saw the always popular Boba Jazz Band take to the stage in the Piwnica pod Baranami. The Kraków-based old school band entertained their lively audience with a night of impressive collective improvisation. Just next door, festival-goers were treated to a more lowkey blues jam session in the Harris Piano Bar.

On Thursday 28 July, vocalist Grażyna Auguścik performed together with Jarek Bester on accordion. Folk and Klezmer influences interwove with Auguścik’s personal – often magical – singing style. In one of the week’s most intimate performances, the chemistry of the performers came naturally. Bester’s virtuosity on the accordion was a revelation. A thoughtful soloist and an outstanding accompanist, his playing melted into Auguścik’s haunting vocals.

The same night, multi-instrumental producer duo Mr Krime & Bolan were joined by singer Grzegorz Dowgiałło for a performance which transported the audience to a completely different world of funk and disco. The group’s synth-heavy set at times verged on the psychedelic, infecting the room with energy in their renditions of funk classics, including Stevie Wonder’s 1976 hit ‘I Wish’.

Paolo Fresu and Adam Bałdych. Photo credit: Wojtek Łyko

Electric Shepherd, pioneers of the Kraków jazz fusion scene in the 1970s, created an atmospheric sound space in the packed Piwnici pod Baranami on Friday 29 July. The group performed with different configurations of keyboards, percussion, wind instruments and vocal effects, building up entrancing grooves that drew on free jazz and West African influences. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marek Stryszowski alternated complex saxophone solos, inspired perhaps by Gato Barbieri or Jan Garbarek, with ethereal vocals that reverberated around the cellar bar.

Electric Shepherd’s performance was characteristic of the festival: far from austere, polished sets, each concert was a free space for improvisation and exhilaration, where the performers grew and changed with their audience.

American guitarist John Scofield and his latest project ‘Yankee Go Home’ filled the Kijów Centrum cinema in the Saturday night headline slot – a fitting setting for an international superstar. Scofield maintained a warm familiarity throughout, the broad age range of his audience testament to his continuing influence. Through his honest, unpretentious playing, the guitarist fostered a laidback chemistry with his band: New York powerhouse Vicente Archer on bass, rock solid keyboardist Jon Cowherd and the indefatigable Josh Dion on drums.

The ensemble was well matched, meandering around each arrangement in a folk-americana-blues style imbued with Scofield’s own characteristic harmonies. To the delight of the audience, Dion took the lead in a gritty vocal rendition of The Grateful Dead’s ‘Black Muddy River’, bolstered by a dynamic solo from Scofield. But the most special moment of the set was quieter, more subdued: Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere’, which began as a thoughtful duet between Archer and Scofield.

On the other side of town underneath Kraków’s main square was another compelling duo: guitarist Szymon Mika and singer Yumi Ito. This was a special performance. The pair’s rendition of Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ had a real optimism to it. Mika’s subtle, intricate rhythms nestled under Ito’s powerful vocals as the two artists unravelled and melted back into one another. The creative range and intensity of the performance was such that it was at times astonishing that there were just two people on stage.

The sheer numbers that the festival attracted were remarkable, in no small part a result of the tireless work of the organisers. Every concert seemed to have a full house, even when most nights featured three or four different gigs to choose from. What I saw from the back of each packed venue was a warm energy cultivated by performers and audiences alike which made every set simultaneously intimate and exciting.

At the heart of the festival was, of course, the city itself. The festival did not try to define one single meaning of jazz or to bind artists to any rigid aesthetic. In spaces like no other – particularly the cellar bars which encompass the whole of Kraków’s long jazz history – performers were given the freedom to connect to the city and its community however they wanted. Although wide ranging in style and substance, each concert tapped into different elements of the city’s musical life and became at its core distinctly Kraków.

In other words, the 2022 Summer Jazz Festival Kraków was as much an impressive collection of concerts as a love letter to the city that holds it each year.

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