Krzysztof Komeda has legendary status in Polish music, and was also one of the pioneers of European jazz. His wider fame resides largely in his work as film composer – he wrote the soundtracks for all of Roman Polanski's early films, notably "Dance of the Vampires" and "Rosemary's Baby". Komeda died early in 1969 at the age of just 37, but left a hugely influential body of work. By fusing Polish folk music and its tradition of melismatic singing with the characteristics of jazz, Komeda as a composer became one of the truly great melodic voices. The album "Astigmatic" has stood the test of time and remains one of the seminal recordings of European jazz.
For a tribute to Komeda, there could be no better guide than Joachim Kühn, the German pianist and jazz icon. The two men knew each other, and Kühn was in the studio as listener for the recording of "Astigmatic" in December 1965. The previous day they had played with their respective bands at the Warsaw Philharmonic: "For me, he was one of the great visionaries of European jazz, even then," Kühn recalls.
The Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic concert takes as its point of departure the three pieces from the legendary album (Astigmatic, Kattorna and Svantetic). Kühn takes on the role of 'primus inter pares' among some quite phenomenal accompanists, his long-standing "New Trio" and the versatile Atom String Quartet. There is excitement in the improvising and soloing which alternates with Komeda's powerful, highly visual themes. This is individual music-making at the highest level, but also with an astonishing sixth sense of anticipation. The results are compelling, modern and timelessly beautiful.
No less enthralling and dramaturgically perfect are the individual arrangements from Komeda's work which follow: Kühn's almost romantic, wonderfully delicate solo on "After the Catastrophe"; a moving duo with Mateusz Smoczyński on the 1961 tune "Moja Ballada"; Atom String Quartet's version of "Crazy Girl" from Komeda's soundtrack to Polanski's "Knife in the Water"; and a dazzling trio arrangement of the lullaby „Sleep Safe and Warm" from "Rosemary's Baby" before everyone joins together once more for the energetic finale, "Roman II". For the encore, Joachim Kühn played the moving "My Brother Rolf" in memory of his brother who had died on August 18, 2022. It was he, like Krzysztof Komeda, who showed the young Joachim Kühn the path to freedom – and how jazz would bring him to it.