Three Crowns

Maciej Obara Quartet

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The half-Polish, half-Norwegian quartet led by fiery alto saxophonist Maciej Obara is gaining ground as one of the most exciting groups on the contemporary jazz scene.   Both the band and its ECM debut Unloved were awarded the Fryderyk Prize in Poland in 2018, and early in 2019 the Obara Quartet   also took first place at the BMW Jazz Awards in Munich. Now comes the quartet’s second ECM album Three Crowns (named for the Trzy Korony mountains in Southern Poland). Its programme is comprised of six new pieces by Maciej and two free arrangements of compositions by Henryk Górecki (1933-2010). The Obara Quartet launches the album with a major concert at the NOSPR Concert Hall in Górecki’s hometown Katowice, and follows up with a tour with dates in Poland, France, Austria and Germany.
Das halb polnische, halb norwegische Quartett unter der Leitung des temperamentvollen Altsaxophonisten Maciej Obara gewinnt derzeit als eine der spannendsten Gruppen der zeitgenössischen Jazzszene stetig an Bedeutung.  Sowohl die Band als auch ihr ECM-Debüt Unloved’ wurden 2018 in Polen mit dem Fryderyk-Preis ausgezeichnet, Anfang 2019 belegte das Obara Quartett auch den ersten Platz bei den BMW Jazz Awards in München.
Jetzt erscheint  mit Three Crows (benannt nach den Trzy Korony-Bergen in Südpolen) das zweite ECM-Album des Quartetts. Das Programm umfasst sechs neue Stücke von Maciej und zwei freie Bearbeitungen von Kompositionen Henryk Góreckis (1933-2010). Das Obara Quartett begeht das Erscheinen des Albums mit einem großen Konzert in der NOSPR Concert Hall in Góreckis Heimatstadt Katowice und einer Tournee mit Terminen in Polen, Frankreich, Österreich und Deutschland.
Featured Artists Recorded

March 2019, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes les Fontaines

  • 1Three Pieces in Old Style: Piece I
    (Henryk Górecki)
    05:40
  • 2Blue Skies for Andy
    (Maciej Obara)
    09:21
  • 3Smoggy People
    (Maciej Obara)
    06:55
  • 4Little Requiem for a Polish Girl: Tranquillo
    (Henryk Górecki)
    09:17
  • 5Vang Church
    (Maciej Obara)
    06:26
  • 6Three Crowns
    (Maciej Obara)
    07:13
  • 7Glow
    (Maciej Obara)
    07:34
  • 8Mr. S
    (Maciej Obara)
    09:57
Den reißenden Strom seiner Improvisationsmusik mit seinen vielen Untiefen, Verengungen und Kaskaden hat Obara nun gleichsam durch Staustufen gebändigt und die aufbrausenden Wellen geglättet.  Wie unter einem Mikroskop lassens ich nun viele Details erkennen und analysieren, die zuvor vorbeigerauscht sind: dass Wania beispielsweise seinem Bandleader wagemutig bis in die entlegensten Winkel des harmonischen Raums folgt – vice versa; oder dass Vågan und NIlssen auch gerade dadurch das rhythmische Fundament unter Spannung setzen, weil sie die Dynamik ganz herunterschrauben. Eine Klasse für sich!
Martin Laurentius, Jazzthing
 
Obara legt den zwischen sechs und zehn Minuten langen Stücken zwar klare Strukturen und starke Melodien zugrunde, lässt sich selber und den kongenialen Kollegen aber viel Raum, diese mit individuellen Fähigkeiten, kreativen Ideen und solistischen Highlights aufzuladen und somit auf ein neues musikalisches Level zu heben. Die kraftvoll-expressiven und beseelt balladesken Altsaxophonimprovisationen korrespondieren auf wundervolle Weise mit den ausdrucksstarken und oftmals auf anziehende Weise versonnen wirkenden Soundlandschaften des Pianisten Dominik Wania […] Dass das exzellente norwegische Rhythmus-Gespann mit dem das musikalische Geschehen erdenden, manchmal aber auch zum Überfliegen einladenden Ole Morten Vågan am Kontrabass und dem gleichermaßen explosiv wie sensibel agierenden Gard Nilssen an den Drums über weite Strecken völlig gleichberechtigt mit Obara und Wania agiert, ist keine große Überraschung, verblüffend ist dennoch, mit wieviel Verve und Einfallsreichtum sie ganz besondere Akzente zu setzen verstehen. Mit diesem Album setzt das Quartett seinem bisherigen Schaffen nicht nur eine, sondern gleich drei Kronen auf. Ein intensives Vergnügen, das mit jedem Durchlauf neuerlich wächst.
Peter Füßl, Kultur
 
Obara, Jahrgang 1981, ist ein großer, ebenso lyrischer wie expressiver Melodiker, dessen herzausreissende Saxofonlinien durch seinen Alto-Cry fast schmerzlich ins Ohr schneiden. Im Kontrast zur subtilen, introspektiven Nachdenklichkeit von Wanias Piano, zur knisternd inspirierten Beweglichkeit der beiden weiteren Partner, der Norweger Ole Morten Vågan am Kontrabass und Gard Nilssen am Schlagzeug, ergibt das eine ebenso schwebende wie kraftvolle Musik von hoher Spannung. […] Melancholie meint jedenfalls in keinem Moment von Obaras Album pathetische oder sentimentale Abdankungsstimmung. Sie schliesst gelegentlich unvorhersehbare Ausbrüche und verspielte Spässe keineswegs aus und ist doch der Grundton dieser Musik.
Peter Rüedi, Weltwoche
 
The first Górecki interpretation, ‘Three Pieces In Old Style’, is so beautifully re-imagined that it sounds as if it’s emanating from another world. Pianist Dominik Wania opens in a deeply respectful mood, allowing Obara’s incisive tone to keen overhead, while bassist Ole Moreten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen roam a rain-kissed landscape below. […] Obara’s bandmates grow in real time, though nowhere so maturely as on ‘Mr. S’, an homage to trumpeter Tomasz Stánko that rolls in and on a wave of melancholy and sunshine in equal measure. Like the title track, it’s flexible and always attached to something pure and knowable. There is no mystery here. Only life.
Tyran Grillo, Downbeat
 
Bewundernswert ist durchwegs die Ausgewogenheit, mit der sich Maciej Obara und seine Begleitung von der Stille ins Getöse begeben, und zu welchem dynamischen Höhepunkt beide Extreme führen. Das feinfühlige Crescendo und Decrescendo der das Schlusslicht bildenden Komposition ‘Mr. S.’ steht sinnbildlich für diesen Aspekt.
Friedrich Kunzmann, Concerto
 
Neben den eigenen Kompositonen liefern diesmal auch Stücke des klassischen Komponisten Henryk Górecki die Vorlagen für die von Obara in perfekter Harmonie mit Drummer Gard Nilssen, dem famosen Trondheim-Orchestra-Bassisten Ole Morten Vågan und dem noch zu entdeckenden Pianisten Dominik Wania entworfenen Soundgemälde.
Oliver Hochkeppel, Süddeutsche Zeitung
 
Bei dieser zweiten CD für ECM überzeugt die sorgfältige Zusammenstellung von sechs Eigenkompositionen Obaras, die durch zwei frei interpretierte Kompositionen von Henryk Mikoaj Gòrecki (1933-2010) ergänzt wird. […] Dieses sehr persönlich bestimmte Repertoire wird geprägt von Obaras Altosaxophon und von Wanias Piano. Die beiden verbindet eine lange Freundschaft, was sich in ihrem kongenialen Interplay ausdrückt. Die norwegische Rhythmus-Section legt einen dichten, aber unaufdringlichen Teppich, auf dem Obara und Wania die Melodien mit sfumato-ähnlichen Farben gestalten
Ruedi Ankli, Jazz’n’More
 
Mit dem polnischen Pianisten Dominik Wanja und den Norwegern Ole Morton Vågan (Bass) und Gard Nilssen, Schlagzeug, hat Maciej Obara eine Band versammelt, bei der kammermusikalische Disziplin, lyrische Feinarbeit und eine zuweilen weit hinaus treibende, impulsive Extravertiertheit sich zu einem überaus geglückten Gruppenkonzept ergänzen, bei dem sich notierte und improvisierte Anteile eng miteinander verschränken.
Hans-Jürgen Linke, Frankfurter Rundschau
 
The music is certainly of elevated quality. Leader Maciej Obara provides six new pieces while the balance of the programme consists of two versions of works by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, which represent the first time the Polish composer’s family has encouraged interpretations of his work by improvisers. Górecki’s ‘Three Pieces in Old Style’ kicks the set off in moodily plangent style. Originals such as ‘Vang Church’ and ‘Glow’ give the band a chance to spread out a little: it’s great to hear Obara unfurl pungently snaky lines on the latter. A smart set from a smart quartet.
Robert Shore, Jazzwise
 
Eagerly awaited follow up to Obara’s debut for ECM, ‘Unloved’, which revealed a saxophonist with plenty to say and a quartet perfectly suited to deliver the goods. It is then gratifying to note that ‘Three Crowns’ does not disappoint, and if anything rather than consolidating on the previous album further develops the saxophonist’s concept and finds the quartet attaining new peaks. Whereas the earlier recording seemed to favour and explore the quieter aspects of Obara’s playing, here we find the alto player at his fiery best. The music is more open ended. with more emphasis on individual solos, but also retains that sense of purpose and structure within the compositions that allow the music to breathe so freely.  […] As a departure from the intensity of the original compositions, Obara includes two pieces by Polish composer, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010), and these are given a quiet and lyrical intensity that at once harks back to the debut recording, and also epitomises how the music has moved forward.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views
 
Reviewing Obara’s 2018 ECM debut ‘Unloved’ was one of the unexpected pleasures of the last decade. Here was an artist steeped in the music of the label’s 70s heyday, playing with the authority of someone many years his senior. […] In case you are wondering, the title ‘Three Crowns’ is inspired by the Trzy Korony mountains in southern Poland. Very much a continuation of ‘Unloved’, this lines up six new Obara originals alongside ‘free arrangements’ of two compositions by Henryk Górecki. Obara came to know Górecki’s family while living in Katowice, and this is the first time an improviser has been officially sanctioned to interpret his works. […] it is virtually impossible to single out highlights, though several pieces do stand slightly prouder than the rest. The long and dramatically unfolding ‘Blue Skies For Andy’ finds the saxophonist at his most mercurial, a widescreen homage to his late father who spent many years playing in the Roma community. Nilssen’s rolling thunder intro to the title track sparks some extrovert if somewhat off-kilter free-bop, ‘Glow’ incorporates long passages of free association within the ghostly outlines of it compositional structure, while the closing ‘Mr S.’ pays a fittingly elegiac tribute to the late departed Stanko. Already looking like one of the year’s essential releases, ‘Three Crowns’ confirms Obara’s quartet as one of the most exciting prospects in contemporary jazz.
Fred Grand, Jazz Journal
Named for the Trzy Korony summit of the Pieniny mountain range in the south of Poland, Three Crowns could be described as a peak performance from the Maciej Obara Quartet, and one that builds upon the achievements of their ECM debut, Unloved. Recorded at Studios La Buissonne in March 2019, the album features six new pieces by bandleader Obara and, in an intriguing development, two versions of works by Polish composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010). This is the first occasion on which the Górecki family – whom Maciej came to know while living in Katowice, the composer’s hometown – has encouraged interpretations of the music by improvisers.
 
To Górecki’s Three Pieces In Old Style (Part One) and Little Requiem for a Polish Girl, composed respectively in 1963 and 1993, Maciej Obara and bandmates Dominik Wania, Ole Morten Vågan and Gard Nilssen bring the intensity and focus that distinguishes their work in the vanguard of contemporary jazz. Theirs is a special quartet with a layered and detailed sound, an alliance of highly individual players dedicated to the group work and able to find space for self-expression inside it.
 
Maciej Obara, whose concentrated alto sax sound balances lyricism and eruptive emotion, is ideally partnered by Dominik Wania, pianist of formidable technique and classical background: “both are improvisers of mercurial energies”, as The Guardian has noted. Wania who found his own path to jazz after emerging from the Krakow Academy with an honours degree in classical performance, first met Obara inside a Tomasz Stanko ensemble. It was at once clear that the impulsive, outgoing saxophonist and the introverted, analytical pianist shared a profound musical understanding. Their debt to Stanko is expressed in the elegiac “Mr. S” which closes Three Crowns, a free-floating piece atmospherically close to the spirit of Balladyna.
 
Norwegian musicians Ole Morten Vågan and Gard Nilssen, who joined the two Poles in 2012, have since played together in many other contexts, but it was in the Obara group that they first honed their synergetic rapport. In this ensemble, old notions of front line and rhythm section responsibilities are frequently overturned. Gard Nilssen’s unrestrained approach to drums and cymbals takes further the waves-of-sound, waves-of-energy approach of Jon Christensen and Audun Kleive, as his dramatic playing on the title track here makes plain. And Ole Morten Vågan roves freely inside the group sound, as likely to add ideas of his own as to adhere strictly to harmonic and rhythmic roles.
 
Obara has described the strongly melodic themes he gives to his group as outlines, “from which our sound is set free,” each of the players giving shape, colour and impetus to the music. Ole Morten Vågan’s is the first instrumental voice heard on “Blue Skies for Andy”. Maciej Obara’s heartfelt tribute to his late father, who spent much of his life playing within the Roma community, is a key piece in the new repertoire and an absorbing journey in itself, covering a lot of ground in its nine-and-a-half minutes’ duration, as the band members rally behind the leader’s dynamic alto solo and then expand upon its implications.
 
Dominik Wania has plenty of powerful moments on Three Crowns, with “Glow”, emerging from the latticework of the pianist’s unaccompanied introduction, especially compelling as it zigzags exhilaratingly through successive plateaus of intensity. The Obara/Wania sound combination is deployed very dramatically here, at times conveying the impression that the musicians are completing each other’s thoughts in the pressurized, speeding world of improvisation.
 
The Obara Quartet’s star has been steadily on the rise in recent seasons. In May the group took First Prize in the BMW Jazz-Welt Competition in Munich. The Award Jury’s citation spoke of the ”enormous amplitude of emotion, the dynamics and the possibility of expression with which Obara and his quartet were able to fascinate the audience…His lyrical saxophone playing, the strength of his compositions and the unchained power of this outstanding ensemble’s improvisations turned the quartet into this year’s winner.”
 
Individually, too, the players have been making headway, with Gard Nilssen featured as artist-in-residence at this year’s Molde Festival, Ole Morten Vågan continuing to direct the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (most recently in a collaboration with Cory Smythe), and Dominik Wania preparing material for a forthcoming ECM solo album.
 
The Maciej Obara Quartet presents the music from Three Crowns on tour this season with concerts including the ECM50 festival at Oslo’s Nasjonal Jazz Scene (September 25), Münsterland Festival, Wadersloh, Germany (October 11), Leipzig Jazz Festival (October 12), Enjoy Jazz Festival Mannheim (November 9), NOSPR, Katowice, Poland (November 26), Koneser, Warsaw (November 27), ZAMEK Culture Centre in Poznań (November 30) and Tel Aviv Jazz Festival (December 20). Further dates, in France, Germany, Poland, Norway and Finland, are scheduled for January and February 2020.
 
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 March 19 NOSPR Concert Hall Katowice, Poland
2024 May 11 ECM Festival Forum Merzhausen Merzhausen, Germany
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