Szymon Mika & Yumi Ito (Jazz Café POSK, Friday 24 Feb 2023)

Exciting Polish-Japanese duo Szymon Mika (guitars) and Yumi Ito (vocals and piano) will play material from their latest release “Ekual” at Jazz Café POSK on Friday 24 February 2023. Interview/preview by Tomasz Furmanek (*):

Szymon Mika was voted Poland’s Best Guitarist in the 2022 Jazz Top poll, run by Jazz Forum magazine. His competition prizes include the International Jarek Śmietana Jazz Guitar Competition, Grand Prix Jazz and Odrą. Mike Stern and John Abercrombie have singled him out for praise, and Peter Bernstein has said: “Szymon Mika is one of the most musical guitarists I have heard – he plays with a beautiful sense of phrasing and time and has a great melodic sensibility. He is someone to listen for in the future as he has a lot of great music to make!”

Yumi Ito is a musician with Japanese and Polish roots whose music is an amalgam of jazz, art-pop, electronica and neo-classical, which can be flexibly performed solo, duo or with her trio. Yumi plays live extensively and has shared stages with the likes of Al Jarreau, Becca Stevens, Nils Petter Molvaer and Mark Turner. Like a Zen master she observes, classifies, and writes down events from a distance – precise, concentrated and wise.

Szymon Mika & Yumi Ito
Szymon Mika & Yumi Ito. Photo credit Katarzyna Kukielka

London Jazz News: How did the musical collaboration with Yumi Ito start?

Szymon Mika: We met in Basel, Switzerland, during the Focusyear programme. Focusyear is a one-year programme for an internationally assembled ensemble of eight individuals who are coached by acknowledged masters of the international jazz scene. We had an opportunity to work on music and play together with masters such as Dave Holland, Joshua Redman, Avishai Cohen, Becca Stevens, Django Bates and Wolfgang Muthspiel. One of the coaches was Steve Swallow – during the concert with him we performed one of his tunes as a duo and after that he really encouraged us to form a project. We also felt a great connection musically. Yumi is a great singer with her own vision – she’s got all the musical qualities that I search for in this art form.

LJN: Tell us about the Jazz Café POSK concert.

SM: We will perform the music from our latest record “Ekual” and might also include some of mine or Yumi’s other songs. We usually improvise a bit as well and play a couple of covers with our own arrangements. Every concert is a journey for us – it’s a platform to discover something new in our own tunes each time we get to play them for different audiences.

LJN: Whom do you count as musical influences and inspirations?

SM: I never have one clear answer for that. I’ve had so many inspirations over the years. But since I was drawn to jazz some names stand out – Keith Jarrett, Miles, Trane, Jim Hall, John Scofield, Ralph Towner, John Taylor. The list is very long. I’m also inspired by people I get to work with. I always search for beauty in many forms, for emotion, depth, surprise. You might find it in Derek Bailey’s music and in Michael Jackson’s tunes. Probably what I love the most about music is how diverse it can get in every aspect of every genre. Genius and a great artist can find its place in many musical fields these days.

LJN: Tell us a few words about the Szymon Mika Trio.

SM: My trio started in 2015 when I recorded my first album (“Unseen”) under my name only – before that I was making some co-leader projects. I feel super privileged that I could form the band exactly how I imagined it with the great Polish bass player Max Mucha and fantastic Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz. We’ve recorded two albums and played quite a few concerts together around Europe. Over the last few years this project had been on hold because of the pandemic and my involvement in many other projects, but I’m hoping to bring it back to life soon.

Szymon Mika. Photo credit Przemek Kleczkowski

LJN: You recorded an album with the great jazz singer Aga Zaryan – what was it like working with her? Will it be a continued collaboration?

SM: I’ve been playing with Aga in her various formations over the last couple of years. It’s always great fun to make music with her – she’s a very strong leader and a great singer. I was more than happy when she came up with an idea of making a two-guitar album with me and a great guitarist from Czech Republic David Dorůžka. Both me and David wrote most of the songs using poems by the great American poet Sara Teasdale. Now the album “Sara” is out, and I really love this project – it’s super unique.

LJN: You were named Poland’s Best Guitarist in the 2022 Jazz Top poll. How did that feel?

SM: I’m very happy to be appreciated for my work as an artist. Making music for a living as a freelance musician does come with a price so every recognition helps you keep going and believing in what you do. On the other hand, I’m trying not to treat music in any competitive terms – on a certain level there is no such thing as “the best” in any art form. It’s rather subjective.

LJN: Plans for the future?

SM: I want to focus a bit more on my own music and projects that feel like home to me. I want to be as honest and authentic with all the music I play as possible.

(*) Tomasz Furmanek is Artistic Manager at Jazz Café POSK

LINKS: Buy tickets for the gig at Jazz Cafe POSK

Szymon Mika’s website

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