Steve Swell and Mikolaj Trzaska: Intimate Free Jazz at the Velvet Lounge Wednesday
New York trombonist Steve Swell is one of improvised music’s most tireless figures, a musician who seems to take sustenance from working constantly in countless contexts, both as leader and sideman. His calling card is blustery, hard-charging free jazz—the kind of energy music he’s been playing for two decades with the likes of William Parker, Rob Brown, Rob Mazurek, and Gebhard Ullman. Swell is bandleader of several projects, most with shifting personnel, and one of the most interesting—and certainly the most germane to his performance Wednesday night at the Velvet Lounge with Polish reedist Mikolaj Trzaska—is a trio outing from last year called Planet Dream (Clean Feed CF 148 ).
Also featuring alto saxophonist Brown and cellist Daniel Levin, the album contains a mix of fully improvised pieces and knotty postbop tunes by Swell, and in every case the emphasis is on fleet give-and-take interaction. Because there’s no drummer, the music is superficially less aggressive than most energy music, but it’s hardly placid; all three participants can kick up dust with lines that move almost blindingly fast, and Levin’s pizzicato sometimes approximates a percussionist’s role. With his fat, brawny tone, Swell can make himself heard through the thickest of dins, but here he accommodates the relative intimacy instead of treading on the rest of the ensemble—though a piece like “Juxtsuppose” proves they can also make a mighty noise.
Trzaska made his first visit to Chicago in November 2008 at the Umbrella Music Festival, in a trio with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang. A veteran of the Gdansk scene, he also operates the Kilogram label and has developed an international profile over the past decade, playing and recording with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Johannes Bauer, and Ken Vandermark—he’s part of the Chicagoan’s Resonance Project, which launched in Krakow three years ago and also includes Swell. Considering the company he keeps, it’s not surprising that he favors a blistering, high-energy attack, but he’s got a broader range than that. On the album Nadir & Mahora (Kilogram), cut with Zerang and Swiss cellist Clementine Gasser, Trzaska is relatively restrained and lyrical on alto and C-melody saxophones—though his playing, marked by a tightly coiled lines that lash the air like wind-snapped cables, remains intense even when he dials things down.
Swell and Trzaska will play as a duo and then be joined by a number of Chicagoans, including reedist Dave Rempis, drummer Frank Rosaly, and vibist Jason Adasiewicz.
Steve Swell photo by John Rogers