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Tour de jazz

Sophomore albums from Emil Miszk and Immortal Onion represent a consistent move forward, once again proving that the Gdańsk jazz scene is the leader of the pack.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

Emil Miszk was quickly noticed in jazz circles, and his debut even got him the 2019 Fryderyk music prize. The musician’s CV is already something to boast about – with three albums by Algorhythm, his solo debut and several recordings in larger ensembles under his belt – but I have a feeling he’s only getting started. Miszk, who keeps growing and developing, is clearly evolving into a mature composer – and his most recent work is a perfect proof thereof. Artificial Stupidity contains just six pieces, but they are performed by a whole orchestra of friends led by the Gdańsk-based trumpeter, who gives us a 34-minute lecture on how to play an attractive, consistent, tasty set. He joins the new generation of Polish jazz musicians, who – like Kamil Piotrowicz, Szymon Gąsiorek or Kuba Więcek – demonstrate without complexes, with disarming frankness, music that is as free as it is erudite. Miszk’s sophomore work is a set of opulently arranged pieces for eight musicians, stretching all the way from classical music to swinging jazz, with twists, turns and counterpoints that prove the ensemble work like a well-oiled team. 

The brass section is simply brilliant: ideologically rooted in the fluid post-Internet reality, they change the mood as swiftly as we scroll posts in the feed of our smartphones. “Insta” offers a conglomerate of sounds, a lot of playful teasing that gives way to a coherent, orchestral sound. Miszk is accompanied here by Kuba Więcek on alto saxophone, Piotr Chęcki on tenor saxophone and Paweł Niewiadomski on trombone. Crème de la crème of jazz locked in a dialogue. A moment later, after some of the emotions have subsided, they give us a more toned down incarnation of their music in the nostalgic “Feed”, where Mich Zienkowski’s guitar interestingly emerges from behind Szymon Burnos’s piano. The album is full of similar moments: bold solutions employed by the leader, cleverly highlighting the talent of his musicians.  Miszk doesn’t force his way to the foreground, standing alongside the rest of the band – when he plans the solos, he emphasizes the class of his ensemble, leaving room for everyone to show off. He delves into minimalist phrases and mighty collective sound, lets himself go crazy with the rest of the musicians to emerge calmly from the storm, all the time making sure the listeners know it’s all just a game. While his latest album with Algorhythm was strongly marked by post-production and electronics, here he tips his hat to the more classical jazz path, yet remains modern throughout. The number of brass instruments made me think of Power of the Horns, only this ensemble here is even more powerful, diverse, and at the same time structured. Miszk proves that the Fryderyk award for his debut was not an overstatement, but a warm-up: Artificial Stupidity, with its sophisticated big band ensemble, perfectly exemplifies that. 

Immortal Onion were noticed equally fast – at an equally young age. Where their debut Ocelot of Salvation was still somewhat shy in flirting with Scandinavian jazz and film music, on XD they don’t just broaden their sound spectrum, but are able to evocatively form it. The trio build their album from acoustic arrangements to the more and more electronic ones, which comes through not just in Tomir Śpiołek’s synths, but above all when the Ziemowit Klimek exchanges his bass for the Moog, electrifying the band’s sound. Where the debut was marked by an atmospheric film ambience, here we get an even more broken metre, nervous pulse and bounciness that brings to mind BadBadNotGood. The Onion’s second album is released by the celebrated U Know Me Records, whose roster might seem rather consistent, and yet not devoid of surprises, though always keeping in with contemporary, fresh sounds.

Take “Triggers”, for example: a fleshy piece, whose finale heavily relies on groovy bass and fast-paced drumming, which is contrasted with “Omnichannel Journeys pt. I”, so much calmer and more melancholy with its post-rock patches in the background and bowed double bass in the finale. “Interaction” sounds cosmic, “Intensity” has a more rock edge, coming closer to the drum’n’bass scene than jazz as such, mostly owing to Klimek’s dense grooves on the Moog. Or the fully electronic, danceable “IA (Information Architecture)” at the end, which elevates the band to an entirely new dimension – after Jazz Jantar, I’d see them in the lineup of Tauron New Music Festival. Immortal Onion are not your go-to easy listening band. Their sophomore work is more progressive than their debut, and yet more diverse, more packed with ideas and arrangements. It’s also a sign that the young trio have enough ideas to fill a number of albums – if just one record offers such a broad genre span, while being completely different from the debut, the band clearly have a lot of surprises left in store.

Emil Miszk & The Sonic Syndicate, Artificial Stupidity, Alpaka
Immortal Onion, XD [Experience Design], U Know Me