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Krakow Jazz Week 2023

Krakow Jazz Week
(Cricoteka, Krakow, Poland. 9 -15 October 2023. Report by Ralf Dombrowski *)

Mathieu Bordenave Trio with Franciszek Raczkowski and Florian Weber

Krakow Jazz Week is about to get bigger, according to its Director Tomasz Handzlik. “This year, for the first time, we have combined Seifert Jazz Days and Jazz Juniors under one name. Next year, the Seifert Competition, the world’s only competition for jazz violin, jazz viola and jazz cello, will be added,. There is also the idea to integrate a few other, smaller events that already exist in the city, and gradually bring them under the Krakow Jazz Week banner.” There are possible synergy benefits to be gained here: a brand with a bigger reach could, for example, travel beyond the city limits, tour Poland, and possibly even go elsewhere in Europe.

There are a few other things that would be worth putting right, and it would be relatively simple to do. Fully fledged musicians really feel a tad odd when they find themselves having to perform under the renowned but originally youth-oriented banner “Jazz Juniors”. Krakow Jazz week is one of Poland’s best-known festivals, and this autumn it was taking place for the 47th time under the auspices of the City Council. But when a pianist such as Florian Weber or a drummer such as Fabian Arbenz find themselves caught under the designation of “Juniors” something is …frankly… not quite right. That said, the process of updating has been started, the new name which has been unveiled has already proved its worth, and the combined festival was very well received by the audience in Krakow.

So, this year, the first half of the Krakow Jazz Week was called “Seifert Jazz Days”, paying homage to the violin legend Zbigniew Seifert (1946-1979) who died far too young. It did him justice in many different ways: the quartet of alto saxophonist Maciej Obara, for example, included some of Seifert’s compositions in their programme, and performed them with real purpose, especially in the florid and energetic improvisations of the bandleader. Opposite him, pianist Dominic Wania responded with astonishingly compelling abstraction; the mixture worked well in that it combined opposites. The trio Sonorismo led by drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk, on the other hand, fared less well. There was something of a mismatch rather than inspiration in the combination of Fender Rhodes played in a restrained manner by Lukasz Ojdana, alongside saxophone outbursts from Pauli Lyytinen, who was using the language of free jazz in a rather formal way.

Mateusz Smoczynski, Markus Stockhausen. Photo copyright Ralf Dombrowski

One genuine highlight of the Krakow Jazz Week, however, was the collaboration between violinist Mateusz Smoczynski and trumpeter Markus Stockhausen. Their quintet also included pianist Kristian Randalu, bassist Chris Jennings and drummer Bodek Janke. They played a lot of their own music, sometimes atmospheric and expansive, at others concentrated and focused on improvisation, That worked well, with contrasts of energy and ecstasy, and in a way that was both thrilling and demanding. The counterpart to this was the trio of saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave in a double bill with the Jarrett-esque expressive pianist Franciszek Raczkowski in the second half of the festival at the Jazz Juniors. This, too, was an ensemble rooted playing with real commitment and interlocking abstraction, most notably in the presence of pianist Florian Weber who sometimes gave us the analytical yet enraptured, and in doing so proving the ideal counterweight to Bordenave whose emotionally finely balanced lines would have sailed through any test of intellectual rigour.

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Front and centre of the Jazz Juniors programme however– it had been constructed for the fifth and last time this year by saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk – was the competition itself. Six bands, all of them excellent without a weak link – were vying for the top spot and the prize money. In the end, the relatively traditional-sounding trio led by pianist Mateusz Kaszuba took third place, followed by the quartet Know Material with trombonist Maciej Prokopowicz as leader. Their programme conveyed plenty of references to the international modern scene (one thinks of Ambrose Akinmusire), and that band might have been on course for victory.

Jazz Juniors winners Kateryna Kravchenko and Arthur Clees. Photo copyright Ralf Dombrowski

However, it was the unusual and conceptually exciting duo of the Ukrainian singer Kateryna Kravchenko with Luxembourg vibraphonist Arthur Clees who carried away the top prize. In their suspended animation of poetry set to music and the pair interacting with their improvisations, they created magical spaces. Their music could by turns have density, charm, personality, and yet there was a virtuoso side too. Their performance also made one look forward with optimism to next year: the winners of the competition are invited back to perform again one year after winning, to let people see and hear how their artistry has developed. And when they return ,one year on, the festival itself will have changed and progressed too: Kravchenko Clees will experience the Seifert Competition in its sixth edition, newly installed under the umbrella of Krakow Jazz Week.

(*) This is an English version by Sebastian of Ralf Dombrowski’s original German report, published in JazzZeitung – LINK

LJN’s previous coverage of Jazz Juniors

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