The Krakow Jazz Ensemble was created as a fictional jazz band for Mike Figgis' film Stormy Monday (1988) where the band played the house band in the jazz club, the location around which some of the film centres. This recording of the music, recorded at Waterfront Studios, Rotherhithe after the film was shot has been sat in my CD collection, played often, for some time.
The opening track is announced with gentle piano before the ensemble join in with a variety of rhythms, riffs and a general anarchic discussion of music in which every instrument can be heard. Track 2 is bass clarinet led and is beautiful melodrama ; soft, gentle and atmospheric before the violin and then flute add their own atmospheric melodies and nuances. The flute leads for a while with some gorgeous floating themes over the top of the flowing bass clarinet whilst the rest of the ensemble add parts to create a cohesive, discursive piece, under which the bass clarinet can always be heard. Track 3 is short and led by the inventive piano of Mel Davis with percussive undertones. Track 4 is a sax led number over the rapidly delivered percussion of Terry Day. The sax introduces motifs, some nicked from familiar tunes and some invented but put together into an original sounding and attractive combination. Track 5 - all 40 seconds of it - is various percussive noises created by the ensemble on their instruments.
Track 6 is introduced almost as a fanfare with everyone adding a little something to the mix before it devolves into a special little something with snippets of sax motifs, piano led riffs and under which a theme eventually distils out from the musical mayhem and fun. Improvised piano, whistles, bangs and interruptions galore, this is a great track, led away towards the half way point by sax and piano before the sax takes over and leads the others in a joyful descent into a faster section. Still the basic theme remains intact but now the theme works hard to be heard as it is developed in different directions by each instrument, ending with a simply harmony. Track 7 is a short, harmonica over percussion track and is followed by track 8 which is poetry read over a pretty strong and repeated rocky riff from Ed Deane on guitar. ( Ed Deane also played alongside BB King on the sound track of the film). The guitar changes rhythm according to the words of the poetry which is clever and effective. Track 9 is introduced by the wonderful piano of Mel Davis improvising around chords and working his magic before the ensemble join in with a few blasts and eclectic tones, just to make sure you are not sleeping. Wonderful.
Track 10 is simply a flowing fugue-like ensemble piece with every instrument adding their ingredient to the mix before track 11 is (almost) a reference to traditional , familiar jazz with rough scat singing interspersed over the top of sax whilst track 12 is an ensemble track with piano leading from the start before the sax decides to take itself off someplace else, the drums go on a different journey and the rest follow suit, creating a lovely track of improvisational impressions. There is a sense of urgency and fun in this track and in the middle section it is all taken down to a slower pace with piano and guitar gentle conversing , apart from a single ear splitting interruption from the sax. The track ends quiet and peacefully.
Track 13 is clarinet led and very beautiful , the clarinet singing and soaring over some delicate percussion and guitar; almost three minutes of peaceful atmosphere and track 14 follows the gentle themes with a rolling rhythm, which the sax tries but doesn't succeed in off-setting. Track 15 is a short interlude of gentle bass clarinet over rolling piano and track 16 is introduced by controlled sax traversing the scales in rapid manner over improvised piano before the bass line travels up and down and the sax is developed into a free blowing, rapidly delivered punchy number of its own over improvising ensemble. Track 17 is a song - 'Out of Control' and shows how versatile this combination of improvising musicians are. 'We're In Lift Off, About to Explode' just about sums it up and this is an enjoyable, rocky, jazzy number delivered in unity but with just enough free playing to remind you that a pop group, this is not.
The Krakow Jazz Ensemble may have been formed to play and support a film but the combination reminds us just how good improvised music can be, even supporting a plot line.
The Krakow Jazz Ensemble consisted of Mel Davis on piano, Terry Day on percussion, Paul Jolly on clarinets and saxes, Charlie Hart on bass and violin and Ed Deane on guitar. If some of those names sound familiar they should because most of them are also part of The People Band, one of the most distinctive and distinguished combos to grace the scene of free form jazz.
Label: 33Jazz Records.