Jammin' with KC: Sylwester Ostrowski & Jazz Forum Talents, featuring Bobby Watson, Logan Richardson,
When a group of musicians from Warsaw, Poland, led by Sylwester Ostrowski (tenor sax), make the pilgrimage to the KC jazz district in search of the spirit of Charlie Parker, this is what happens--an album in the spirit and of the spirit, a kind of "Bird Lives" tribute. Although the album has two Parker staple compositions played in the classic style --("Donna Lee" and "Confirmation")--the album as a whole is more a representation of its time rather than a golden age remake. There's hip hop, featuring Royal Chief on lyrics, there's acid jazz, and other hip contemporary styles I don't know, but appreciate. This album is fun and varied, and has an international flavor. Someone could ask, "What's jazz sound like today in Poland?" Here's one answer. The album gives significant play to KC jazz-master Bobby Watson and heralded international next-generation star Logan Richardson, both on alto sax, along with Kenyon Harrold (also known for work with Common, JAY-Z, and Eminem) on trumpet. You couldn't choose a better combo of Kansas Citians (from the area, past and present) to round out this album.
In some ways, the album gets at the flavor of KC in only the way an outsider can, including with tunes like "Chiefs Kingdom," a tribute to the city's champion football team. Sometimes you can't see the glory of your own hometown like someone who comes to visit. Playing upon the team's football chant, the tune is a somewhat raucous celebration of city and sport, featuring Watson and Ostrowski on sax, and Jakub Mizeracki on guitar. One could imagine this tune played from the stands to cheer on the winning team, a kind of all-star studded, brassy, artistic pep band. Watson's stylings on this tune are truly remarkable, including some jaw-dropping, swift runs.
Harrold's trumpet work on the album's last track ("Burnt Ends: Key") is truly tasty, and, if one didn't know, one could mistake him for Miles. There's a brassy warmth and a presence in his playing that works so very well over this drums- and "beats"-driven, percussive tune. Logan Richardson gets to stretch out on the meditative, ballad-like third track, "Sketches of Missouri," with its ethereal, Pat Metheny-like feel. Richardson's mournful, hopeful, full-toned alto sax work on this tune makes it, for me. With its juxtaposition of warmth against the chill, it could serve as an alternate soundtrack for the film THE ICE HARVEST (2005). This might be my favorite track, when it comes to something to listen to while working to think deeply and expansively.
You don't always hear a harmonica in jazz, but when you do it's something special, like a new spice in the soup. One that's hot, but not too hot. Just enough to wake you up. Lively improvised harmonica always takes me back to Sesame Street (Toots Thielemans)--to that kind of freewheeling joy. That theme song that says, "Come play with me. Or come dance." Track 6, "Dog's Ducks," has that feel, as does track 1, featuring Kacper Smolinski on spirited, halcyon jazz harmonica.
PS The album's press kit includes some fun photos of the band in the American Jazz Museum, including one with Parker's Grafton plastic sax. You can tell the musicians enjoyed themselves while here. That spirit lives on in the album, like a wild party captured on wax, on tape, on that sophisticated recording ether, whatever we now call it.
If you want to hear an international birthday bash for Bird on what would have been his 100th birthday, hosted by some of his devotees from Poland, here it is. And it is truly contemporary. And fun. —Kevin Rabas