Bazaar is known as Milian’s masterpiece. The Jerzy Milian Trio, made up of Milian on vibes and marimba, Jacek Bednarek on bass, Grzegorz Gierlowski on drums, is joined by singer Ewa Wanat and flutist Janusz Mych for this 1969 date, recorded in June at Warsaw’s Studio 12. Komeda had died just two months prior, and the set begins with a tribute in the form of a song the two bandleaders co-wrote, titled “Memory of Bach”. From its bouncy, classical-cum-jazz theme, though, one would never guess that this was a eulogy. Thankfully, the cheesy melody quickly disintegrates into a modern jazz workout that swings as much as any Blue Note record from the same period; most striking, however, is its quick transition to a rather free bass solo presented in the style of Jackie McLean’s chamber jazz, ending the piece without a return to the major motif.
“Contemporaneousness,” says the liner notes, “is a special quality of Milian's whole road of artistic quest and achievements.”2 Whatever that means, it’s true that Bazaar finds Milian at home on a wide range of styles both traditional and modern -- often both at once. “My Favorite Band” finds him in dialogue with Wanat, who delivers haunting, lyric-less vocals against Milian’s claustrophic vibes and Gierlowski’s tumultuous rhythms, while the trio explore Polish folk forms on “Szkice Ludowe” with a regional stringed instrument called a gidjak. “Serial Rag” conjures up the spirit of Eric Dolphy with its odd rhythms, vibes and bass working in unsettling counterpoint to one another, and could easily be mistaken as an outtake from Out to Lunch, as does the next and final track, “Valse Ex Cathedra”. The difference is that Milian plants his avant-garde detours firmly within the frame of popular music, ready to make the transition from introspective experimentation to traditional structures at the drop of a hat. However, the strangely clipped vibraphone phrasings and purely phonetic vocals that end Bazaar hint at the radicality lying behind all of Milian’s music.
Jerzy Milian - Szkice Ludowe (Folk Sketches).mp3 (320 kbps, 9.4 mb)
Jerzy Milian - Bazaar (Polskie Nagrania, 1969/2005; 75.4 mb)
Though perhaps not quite up to the sophistication of Bazaar, the Milian compilation Ashkhabad Girl makes up for it by being fun as hell. The origin of the tracks on Ashkhabad Girl are unclear, and the description offered by Obuh’s press release offers little consolation:
Jazz beat grooves with touches of Latin, psychedelia and soundtrack from legendary jazz vibraphonist and his band. Living Mono never published (what a shame...) studio recordings from 1967-1972. Plastic Fantastic. For all jazzy, beat, audiophile, the 60's or just opened heads. Limited to 350 numbered copies. Great super solid laminated cover reminding golden years of analogs from the late 50's and early 60's.3Stylistically, though, it’s not too far off the mark. Judging by the sound of these cuts, it seems like Milian began working in television and film as a session musician. Though some of it is bland and arouses little more than an attraction to kitsch value, Ashkhabad Girl also features some of Milian’s most exciting and interesting work. The noir/thriller quality of Milian’s vibraphone playing is more apparent than ever; it’s almost tempting to label this music as crime jazz, and it certainly shares much in common with the soundtrack to a spy film. Most interesting are the new possibilities opened up for the group by studio manipulation. “Going Out on the Street” is a bizarre musique concrete piece, with the music alternating between orchestral balladry, jazz-funk, and field noises such as car horns. “Dialogue at Midnight” uses a vocal sample as its point of entry – various people saying “Hello” until the word mutates into the form of a desperate question – while Milian directs the sonic content from easy listening to a hardboiled chase theme. Tunes like “Luciano Coxcomb”, “Jerks at the Audience”, and “Pranks of the Lawyer” find Milian at his most devilish, full of blaring horns, elastic basslines and straightforward drumming. The vibes hover about the whole ensemble with color and candor, never saying more than they need to. “Candelabra” again finds Milian playing with European folk forms, but the exoticism of “Ashkhabad Girl” seems to be more successful, with the leader abandoning his vibes for Eastern percussion effects and a toy zither. The compilation seems to sum up the Milian aesthetic very well: ear-catching themes, some fine soloing, a dash of kitsch and a consistent desire to push the boundaries of jazz to unfamiliar territory.
Jerzy Milian - Pranks of the Lawyer.mp3 (192 kbps, 4.2 mb)
Jerzy Milian - Ashkhabad Girl (Obuh, 2003; 57 mb)
1 Liner notes to Bazaar, http://www.polishjazz.com/pjs/17.htm.
3 Obuh Records press release, http://strangefortune.com/cd.php?id=2356.