Biographical note

Leszek Kułakowski

Leszek Kułakowski, an outstanding composer and jazz pianist, is deemed a “jazz visionary” by music critics.

As a music theorist and full professor who lectures in composition, he heads the Department of Jazz at the Gdańsk Academy of Music, where he established the Jazz and Popular Music course.

He is the founder and artistic director of two international events, the annual Komeda Jazz Festival, held for the twenty-second time in November 2016, and the biennial Krzysztof Komeda Composers’ Competition, the only competition of its kind in Poland.

These four categories point to a jazzman of excellence, with a creative, charismatic personality and enormous artistic potential, whose presence on the Polish jazz scene can be ascribed to an intuitive melding of tremendous talent, intelligence and unwavering tenacity in his work, all of which is also a sign of self-awareness.

In his work as a composer, he explores his fascination with jazz treated as the substance of universal musical narrative. He is one of only a handful of composers around the world who fuse jazz and Third Stream art music. His oeuvre to date encompasses more than over hundred and fifty compositions for a range of jazz line-ups. With small formations, he experiments with sound material fusing jazz content with aleatoricism, as in his Aleatomodalblues (2004), with serialism, as heard, for instance, in his Seriablueslizm {Serialbluesism] (1995), and with polymodality and polytonality, where his Gonitwa [Pursuit] No. 7 (1995) serves as an example. He also experiments with Polish folk music and the works of classical composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Moniuszko and Chopin, endowing them with the character of jazz.

Leszek Kułakowski has collaborated with a host of distinguished jazz artists, including Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Andy Middleton, Ed Schuller, Al Fester, Tomasz Stańko and Zbigniew Namysłowski, to name but a few, and he has performed at Poland’s leading jazz festivals and many of Europe’s major venues, appearing in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Finland and Denmark. He has also given concerts in the USA.

His most important works include Missa Miseri Cordis for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, mixed choir and symphony orchestra (2008); Piano Concerto for piano and orchestra (2012); Sketches for Jazz Trio & Symphony Orchestra (2012), Dyskretny urok konsonansów [The Discreet Charm of Consonances] for string orchestra, (2002); Ewencja [Evention], Free Steps and Walczyk Dekadencki [Decadent Waltz] for jazz trio and symphony orchestra (1995); Eurofonia [Europhonia] for solo voice, jazz quintet and symphony orchestra (2000); Aleatomodalblues and Cap Ca Rap (2004); Repetition 2005 for jazz big band; and Ostinatopermutacje [Ostinatopermutations] for bass clarinet, marimba, gran cassa and piano [2008]. As a composer, he has released seventeen original CDs, with Eurofonia being selected as the 2000 Album of the Year in a readers’ survey run by the prestigious “Jazz Forum” magazine. He has won numerous awards, including the Minster of Culture and National Heritage’s Award for an Outstanding Contribution to Polish Culture (2006) and the Silver Gloria Artis Medal for Services to Culture (2010).

Discography

"Love Songs"

love-songs

"Love Songs" is a set of very nice and poetic songs composed and arranged by Leszek with lyrics of Zbigniew Ksiazek, interpreted by Joanna Knitter. Generally "Love Songs" is a good album, period. Of course there are here excellent tracks, like "Dam, zolte kaczence", or the wonderful song about jealousy "Obok nas w lozku On". Both the compositions and lyrics are very good. The quartet plays very well, and string arrangement are not too sweet. The entry of Tomasz Grzegorski on tenor in "W lozku zima i szron", as well as the guitar lines of Maciek Grzywacz in "Mialam calym swiatem byc". All of these positive aspect cannot upgrade the overall evaluation of the record.

"Leszek Kulakowski Quintet feat. Andy Middleton Live: Copy & Insert Leszek Kulakowski (grand p); Andy Middleton (ss, ts); Jerzy Jerzy Małek (t, h); Tomasz Sowinski (dr); Piotr Kulakowski (b)"

SLAP & CARESS

"Copy & Insert" is a contemporary mainstream record, employing the tradition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messangers, our Piotr Wojtasik Quartet or Krzysztof Popek quintets. Andy Middleton is an American saxophone player, not very active, but still having on his accound recordings with Ralph Towner, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, Renee Rosnes, Jamey Haddad, Joey Calderazzo and Alan Jones. Andy shows his class already on the opening "Japanese Tune" his soprano solo is amazing. But, the whole band is in the great disposition. Jerzy Jerzy Małek plays a solo right after Andy and keeps the top quality, similarly as Leszek, who is simply ingenious. "Wstawiªem ba FB zdj¦cie mojego kotka i nikt nie zareagowal" (I posted a photo of my kitten on my FB wall, as nobody reacted)" is fast post-bop track, with an obvious touch of sadness and melodrama, as title suggests. "Natretna powracajaca mysl" is a very noble ballad, while following "XX Century Memories" is a fast tune, with the Keith Jarrett spirit. "Bagatella", perhaps the most beautiful track of the album, has a lot of connotations with contemporary chamber music. Andy's soprano is again breath taking. Finally, the title and the closig track, "Copy & Insert", is another excursion into the land of hard-post-bop. 13 minutes of mainstream jazz delight!!! In its genre, excellent record!

"Leszek Kulakowski feat. Mikael Godée Ebba"

chopin

"Chopin Impressions" are recorded with a formidable soprano player, Mikael Godée. Quoting his web page: "Mikael Godée is one of the main ingredients of what we call the Swedish jazz. His involvement in groups Corpo and nglaspel, where his lyrical and warm soprano saxophone creates a unique musical atmosphere, has been hugely important in today's jazz scene". He is joined here also by Ebba Westerberg, a wonderful Swedish percussionist. Tomek Sowinski and Piotr Kułakowski complete the personnel of this amazing quintet. The new reading of "Chopin Impressions", seven years after the Chopin Year 2010, is very fresh and very different from other recording of this kind. One can hear it from the starting "Waltz a-moll Op. 34 Nr. 2". Chopin's music is transformed and re-arranged here to a kind ECM/ACT jazz. With Leszek and the section in the brilliant form this is clearly an excellent album. All the tunes are masterpieces of paraphrase. It is hard to dig something, but for me the reading of "Nocturne g-moll Op. 55 Nr. 1" in an quite unexpected tempo is breath taking. Of course, I cannot resist "Marche Funebre" from "Piano Sonata b-moll Op. 35, III Mov." notable for plenty of percussion and prepared instruments. Last, but not least, "Preludium c-moll Op. 28", again with great drumming and percussion, and wonderful cadenza of Leszek. Bravo Leszek, who is running on the red carpet in the recent years. Worth to remember at this point his contribution to Leszek Leszek Zadlo "Komeda. Wygnanie z Raju". Maciej Lewenstein

"LESZEK KULAKOWSKI ~ CODE NUMBERS"

code numbers

This is a wonderful piano trio album by Polish Jazz pianist / composer Leszek Kulakowski with bassist Piotr Kulakowski and drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk (of RGG fame). The album presents thirteen original compositions, all by Kulakowski, some quite short, like outlines if a musical idea which is repeated four times, others lengthy and expanded with elaborate improvisations. The album was recorded at the Studio Tokarnia and was engineered and mastered by Jan Smoczynski, as usual with spectacular sonic results.

Kulakowski is a musician of many diverse preferences, moving between the pure Jazz idiom and Jazz-Classical Fusion, feeling comfortably in both situations. Although this album presents him in seemingly "pure" Jazziness, both his playing and his compositions always incorporate a certain element of contemporary Classical music, even if not stated openly. He is a master of melody, but also of atmosphere and suspense, which keeps the listener in a state of anticipation. Personally I find this ability quite remarkable as it emerges in Kulakowski´s work with such intensity for the first time since the works of Krzysztof Komeda, the Godfather of Polish Jazz, were created in the late 1960s. The music also champions the typical Polish lyricism and intrinsic melancholy, which although omnipresent in Polish Jazz, are rarely revealed with such exquisiteness and compassion, as in the music presented here.

The performances are all quite brilliant, with the piano often performing without accompaniment, and when the whole trio is present, the rhythm section often takes a deliberate step back, respectfully keeping the piano in the spotlight. Of course when the rhythm section does step in full swing, the musicians sound like one coherent unit. Gradziuk displays his usual virtuosic, yet reserved ability to keep time in a most inspired way and even is his solo tries not to outshine his colleagues. The bassist also performs wonderfully, providing those magnificent riffs that keep the anticipation in the air. The whole thing is simply brilliant.

This music should be heard by every piano trio connoisseur on this planet, as it is definitely has to offer many novel ideas and deeply moving music, which deserves to be discovered and shared. Not to be missed!

Adam Baruch

"LESZEK KULAKOWSKI ~ LOOKING AHEAD"

EUROFONIA

In the last few years preceding the release of this album celebrated Polish Jazz pianist / composer Leszek Kulakowski concentrated on producing large orchestral works, which had either no direct connection to Jazz while pushing the boundaries of contemporary Classical idiom or floated somewhere within the Jazz-Classical Fusion, combining the two genres. Therefore this album comes as most welcome return to his Jazz roots. Recorded in a sextet setting with German trumpeter Christoph Titz, saxophonist Tomasz Grzegorski, cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski, bassist Piotr Kulakowski and drummer Tomasz Sowinski, the album presents nine original compositions, all by Leszek Kulakowski.

Kulakowski was always first and foremost a superb song-weaver, which is very evident on this album from start to finish. The various melodies are the deepest root of this music, which then gets expanded into the modern mainstream language, floating gently and elegantly from one tune to another, caressed and pampered on its way by the musicians, who add their individual touches. There is plenty of freedom and breathing space within this music to inspire a relaxed, moderate approach by the players, which proves to be ideal in this context. Of course certain traces of Classical compositional tricks and arrangement devices can be picked up by the experienced listeners. The overall atmosphere of this recording is reminiscent of the Scandinavian sound, more so than to the usual Polish Jazz recordings. A certain ECM-ism can also be detected.

The individual contributions by its participants are another forte of this album; everybody´s playing sounds truly inspired here. Titz is a wonderful trumpeter, who somehow never really gets the credit for his work that he usually deserves. His performances on this albums rank among his best work done on record, and although his phrasing derives from other great European trumpet Masters, his deep lyricism and feel are uniquely his own.

The most surprising and at the same time impressive soloist on this album is the young cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski, whose name pops up on the local scene with a feverish frequency and in some most unexpected places, in addition to his regular work with the Atom String Quartet. Kulakowski relays on his solo parts in several of the compositions presented here, and his decision to engage Lenczowski in this project pays off splendidly.

Grzegorski and Kulakowski also play some excellent solos in the various tunes, which perhaps are less spectacular but no less expressive and supportive in the common effort invested to create this music. The rhythm section is extremely supportive throughout and plays with precision and sensitivity, exactly when and as needed.

In many respects this is probably the most "conventional" album released by the For Tune label so far and it´s good to see that the people running the label have no preconceptions overshadowing their judgment and recognize great music even if it is decently (but not to conservatively) dressed. It´s good to see Kulakowski playing and composing Jazz again, especially when the music is as good as what we can hear on this album. Chapeau bas indeed!

Adam Baruch

"LESZEK KULAKOWSKI ~ PIANO CONCERTO / SKETCHES FOR JAZZ TRIO & SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA"

sketches

Polish pianist / composer Leszek Kulakowski is undoubtedly one of his country´s most idiosyncratic musical personalities, spearheading and representing the continuous love affair between Jazz and Classical music in his country. Considering the fact that most Polish Jazz musicians are graduates of musical academic institutions, some of them with Classical as well as Jazz studies behind them, it is hardly surprising that the amalgamation of these two genres happens quite often on the Polish scene. Some Polish Jazz musicians play their interpretations of Classical compositions, most often those by the Polish pianist / composer Frederic Chopin; others utilize Classical music methods, devices and techniques in their Jazz compositions; and yet others compose large scale compositions, often involving entire symphonic orchestras, like the music by Kulakowski included herein.

This album includes two separate works by Kulakowski, both involving piano and a symphony orchestra: his "Piano Concerto" and the "Sketches For Jazz Trio & Symphony Orchestra". The piano concerto is performed by his brother Bogdan Kulakowski as the soloist and the sketches are performed by a piano trio, this time with the composer in the piano chair, with bassist Piotr Kulakowski and drummer Jacek Pelc. Both works are performed with the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in Gdansk conducted by Szymon Bywalec. The music was recorded live at the Baltic Philharmonic in Gdansk during the Komeda Jazz Festival.

Although this is by far not the first attempt of its kind to merge Jazz and Classical music, the music on this album is quite surprising, principally as far as the attempt to create a bona fide Classical composition, especially in the case of the piano concerto, rather than a more "entertaining" mixture of the genres, which could be much more accessible to the average listener. There have been very few attempts to compose a piano concerto, soaked with Jazz undertones and yet so typically Classical in approach and structure. The obvious example of George Gershwin´s "Piano Concerto in F" (and his other works) comes to mind immediately, not suggesting any direct links between these works, but as a point of reference. The composer seems certainly to be able to create a fully organic, although stylistically retrograde, piece of Classical music, which is moving and aesthetically fulfilling. The Jazz citations, chords and references will be of course more obvious to listeners with a Jazz background rather than to those with a strict Classical one, but both should be able to immensely enjoy the music.

The sketches are definitely more "entertaining", with easily recognizable melody lines and fine lyrical atmosphere, lush string accompaniment and nice orchestral "outbursts" always in the right places. This is an elegant and intelligent piece of music, and although less original than the piano concerto, it has its own merits, especially the wonderful balance and integration between the trio and the orchestra, which is usually the weakest link of this type of musical encounters.

The performances are quite excellent, both those by the soloists and by the orchestra. The live recording is somewhat mushy and lacking definition, but mostly well balanced, but that is a matter for fineschmeckers to deliberate upon; most listeners should be utterly satisfied with the sonic quality, on top of their admiration of the musical contents.

This album is an excellent testimony as to the versatility, quality and artistic ability of the Polish Jazz scene, which has truly very little competition elsewhere. Of course it is another superb addition to the musical legacy of Leszek Kulakowski, who is surely about to take all his admirers by surprise again sometime in the near future. Kudos Maestro!

Adam Baruch

"LESZEK KULAKOWSKI ~ CANTABILE IN G-MINOR"

LESZEK KUŁAKOWSKI I KASZUBI

This is an album by Polish Jazz pianist / composer Leszek Kulakowski, recorded in a quartet setting with celebrated American trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bassist Piotr Kulakowski and veteran drummer Jacek Pelc. The album comprises of ten original compositions, all by Kulakowski. The music was recorded in 2006 but released only in 2011.

The music is set well within the mainstream Jazz boundaries, with clear melodic themes and pretty straightforward improvisations, all very well performed by the quartet members, but hardly innovative or challenging. Kulakowski is a very skilled weaver of melodies, and his slow melancholic themes are usually more moving than the mid to up-tempo numbers.

All the players are of course very experienced performers and the overall level of personal output is excellent. Piotr Kulakowski plays some beautiful bass riffs and holds the quartet together and Pelc is always doing what is expected of him in every situation. Leszek Kulakowski is a charmer, as usual, and his delicate piano chords and solo parts are heartwarming. Henderson, after playing Funk and Jazz-Rock Fusion for many years, is back as a post Bop player, doing a splendid job both on trumpet and Flugelhorn. However, in comparison to many Polish Jazz trumpeters, who appeared on the scene in recent years, his performances quite honestly a bit pale as to what one might expect.

All in all this is a fine mainstream album, which many Jazz fans should be able to enjoy and one that is definitely worth discovering. Perhaps not the strongest statement by Kulakowski to date, but this is definitely a valuable component of his splendid legacy so far.

Contact

Music-vox

76-200 Słupsk, Poland
st. Jasminowa 38

E-mail: kulakowski.music@neostrada.p

E-mail: info@leszekkulakowski.com

E-mail: komedajazzfestival@wp.pl

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