Late February’s best music review

The end of February brings a pair of concerts to Krakow’s most forward-thinking jazz venue, Alchemia, that count as real events on the local music scene. The first is Gato Libre (Feb. 23), an ensemble of Japanese avant-jazz musicians who concentrate on Central European folk music for this project (the members are: Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Satoko Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass). The first track on their recent round-the-world live record (“Nomad”) was recorded in Krakow – and so it’s safe to say this group enjoys playing here.

Reviews of the band’s work tend to match the strangeness of their premise. Jim Santella of “All about Jazz” notes that “Slowly and deliberately, the music walks you through the streets and welcomes you with open arms,” and moreover “its casual four-part message roams free as a bird (or cat).” Without commenting on the wisdom of these remarks, it is true that there is often a tremendous warmth and accessible joy to this music – Dave Douglas’s stripped-down projects are not a bad reference point – that makes asking whether or not Japanese people can play Central European folk music a bit redundant.

Three days later (Feb. 26) Alchemia will be hosting Chicago’s Dragons 1976 (Tim Daisy – percussion, Jason Ajemian – bass, Aram Shelton – saxophones). Tim Daisy visited us just two months ago with Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, and before that with the Vandermark 5.

Anyone familiar with the former’s projects (Chicago Underground Trio, Isotope 217, etc.) will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Dragons, who are equally unwilling to draw lines between new jazz, post-rock, folk, American indie music and electronica.

The Chicago music scene has carved itself quite special niche in this respect, and one that nicely complements the recent jazz movements in Poland.

Expect music that experiments quite freely with structure – or abandons it altogether – but nonetheless remains easy on the ear.

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