Co-led by saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna and pianist Andrzej Winnicki, the Komeda Project does a lot more than recapture past musical glories. Both of these guys have been playing together since the 1980s (most notably in the fusion group Breakwater), and their rapport is quite palpable throughout "Requiem." Medyna plays the sort of blustery, big-toned, brawny tenor saxophone that Komeda himself would have favored back in the day. His soloing throughout Requiem is the sort of expressive, soulful tenor playing that I cannot get enough of! Winnicki is also a stellar soloist, with amazing technique and original ideas who understands Komeda's kinship with classical and ethnic Polish musics. His two original tunes, 'Elutka' and 'Anubis' meld seamlessly with the Komeda pieces, yet retain their own character. "Requiem" also features three incredibly dynamic American players whose presence alone would make the CD worth a listen. Drummer Nasheet Waits has played with everyone from Jason Moran to Peter Brotzmann, and he is in spectacular form throughout this CD. He has wonderful chemistry with bassist Scott Colley, who handles this music with equal parts inspiration and perspiration. Trumpeter Russ Johnson proves to be the ideal foil for Medyna's reeds - his clarion tone and razor-sharp chops make for an unusually effective front line. He's also obviously listened to Tomasz Stanko's work from Komeda's original recordings, and while he makes no attempt to re-create what the great Polish trumpeter did, he has something of Stanko's quirky combination of soul, vulnerability and swagger in his own playing.
Requiem starts off with the three-part epic 'Nighttime Daytime Requiem' - an ambitious suite that alternates lush, ballad-like rubato passages with urgent, uptempo segments that have a vaguely Eastern European folk / ethnic flavor. The interesting thing here is that Komeda gives equal weight to the ensemble and the soloists throughout - his melodies stretch out almost voluptuously, and do so much more than simply provide a springboard for a succession of solos. While Medyna, Winnicki, and Johnson make good use of their ample solo space, Colley's bass solo on Part 2 is nothing short of jaw-dropping. With its Moorish tonalities and slow simmering tango feel, 'Dirge for Europe' reminded me of Miles' 'Sketches of Spain' though Komeda's piece is a bit more adventurous. Johnson's flugelhorn is en fuego here, trading barbs with Medyna's sweet, fat soprano. 'Astigmatic' - perhaps Komeda's single most important composition - is delivered with fresh, fiery passion. The quintet simply goes nuts on this oddly structured tune that, in the early 60s, presaged the whole Euro-free-jazz thing. Solo-wise, Winnicki's piano leads the way, blazing and swooping over the boiling rhythm section. Also notable here is Medyna passionately skirling, acrobatic soprano solo and Colley's resonant unaccompanied bass solo.
Requiem is a wonderfully fresh look at the music of a composer who is finally getting his due in the jazz world. The playing here is fresh and inspired ans in-the-moment, so much so that you never get the sense that this is merely another jazz repertory project. Highly recommended!