Free jazz requires “deep listening skills,” I’ve been told. Finding beauty in the apparent chaos and discovering magic in the disorganization can be tricky for unseasoned listeners, allegedly.
Yet when the free jazz is done as accurately and as articulately as it is on Five Spot’s Poltva, it’s hard to suggest that any special skills are required at all to gain full enjoyment from the record. Perhaps it’s not even fair to call Poltva free jazz after all. Maybe it’s just free.
Taken from a live recording in December of 2007 at the Jazz Festival BEZZ in Lviv, Ukraine, Poltva is four tracks of rewarding autonomy that unites the quintet under one creative cause.
The band is an international experience. German Klaus Kugel is on drums, American Roberta Piket is on piano and Lithuanian Petras Vysniauskas plays soprano sax. Ukrainians Yury Yaremchuk (soprano and alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet) and Mark Tokar (bass) round out the group.
The interesting thing about this particular recording is that the foundation isn’t built for various players to go off on tangential exercises of self-indulgence. Instead, they all contribute freely to the movement of the whole. Five Spot advances through the performance, as though working towards an ultimate goal with secure confidence. There are solos, sure, but they never appear peculiar or ego-driven.
If the group has a linchpin, it’s Kugel. His playing adds more than mere percussive elements. Listen as he provides smatterings of impact towards the conclusion of the first cut. Kugel’s desire to build tension is innate, springing out of a lifetime of learning and practicing more than just method and tone. Like all quality drummers, Kugel does more than provide a beat. He feels it, knowingly inserting himself in moments and emotions.
The piano of Piket, too, provides tension. She cautiously makes an entrance on the second track of the record, plunking her presence as Kugel provides answers with a rolling squall of percussion. The intentions are clear and the quintet adds instruments until a storm is brewing.
Poltva consists of two longer tracks, both ranging over twenty minutes, and two shorter ones.
The development of tension carries throughout the entire Lviv performance and the appreciative crowd springs to life (or is it relief?) at the conclusion of the third track, responding to a blast of horns that gleefully seems to carry forever. The fourth and final track may well be a reward for their endurance.
Fans of free music would do well to check out Poltva. It showcases another avenue of jazz, one seldom heard, and blends international traditions with lucidity and style. Five Spot is a group of care, pinned in the middle by marvellous drumming by Klaus Kugel and a truly sensitive piano performance by Roberta Piket.