THE RECORD: ADAM. Columbia, JS 35320.
One of the more interesting recent jazz albums belongs to someone who's not only unknown to the vast majority of the listening public, but is not American. While people rightfully declare jazz the only authentic American art form, Adam Matyszkowicz plays piano with a feel rooted in European classical and American traditions.
Matyszkowicz mercifully shortened his name to Makowicz (accent on the second syllable, "w" pronounced as "v"), but if you sitll find yourself gagging when you try it, just remember "Adam," the name of his album.
Born in Czechoslavakia 38 years ago, Adam Makowicz was schooled in Poland and hooked up with jazzman Tomasz Stanko in Warsaw, which gave his training at the Chopin Secondary School of Music a new direction.
Poland is not exactly the jazz heartland of Europe, but Makowicz managed to tour with saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski (who recently released his own album in the States) and gained experience playing such festivals as Montreux and with such people as Ben Webster and Jan Garbrek. In 1971. Makowicz joined violinist Michel Urbaniak, whose popularity in America helped Makowicz gain some recognition. He released "Newborn Light," which featured Urbaniak's wife - vocalist Urszula Dudziak - and now comes a solo piano album that easily eclipses that effort.
If you're about to dislocate your tongue pronouncing the name of Makowicz and his contemporaries, here's an easy one: John Hammond. The same John Hammond who discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen not only discovered Makowicz, but went so far as to produce "Adam," although Hammond no longer produces albums regularly.
From the first notes, it's obvious that Makowicz is a prodigious talent. The runs of "Jig-Saw Puzzle" are influenced by a score of American performers: Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson; but Makowicz doesn't owe any of them any debts. His style is unique and he is just as comfortable with the quiet chorus of "Over the Rainbow" as he is with the faster-paced "Cherokee."
The selections on "Adam" offer a variety of originals and standards.Among the credits for Makowicz (Jig-Saw Puzzle," "Tribute to Erroll Garner," "Once Yes Once No," "Winter Flowers," "Chopin's Willows") are names like Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Since Makowicz comes from a completely different background, his interpretations of such pieces as "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" and "Tea For Two" present a perspective that most musicians cannot fathom.
But beyond his perspective, Makowicz is technically superb. His "Tribute to Erroll Garner" opens with some nearly classical cascading in the right hand while his strong left supports the night-clubbish melody. By song's end, the piano is whispering a firm statement without a hint of sentimentality, and this balanced blend of proficiency and feeling permeates the entire album.
"Adam," despite being a solo piano work, is demanding enough to require many listenings, each revealing nuances that escaped the last time around. As Willis Conover writes in the liner notes, "It's easy (or hard) ecough getting a fix on an American performer when we know where and when he grew up and which musicians he used to work with: we can fit into a pattern. When a musician's background is foreign to us, he offers few handles for convient grabbing. We may too easily mistake a handle for the whole bag."
And the handles are there in abundance. "Once Yes Once No" sounds like Art Tatum until the middle, when Makowicz shatters the pattern with some Keith Jarrett-like movements. "Blues for John" has some key-tickling that would make early honky-tonkers envious. It's just not easy to put your finger on just where Makowicz is coming from.
Or, for that matter, on where he's going to. There isn't usually a big market for Polish pianists, especially those playing Ellington rather than Rachmaninoff. But Barney Josephson, who runs New York City's Cookery jazz club, put Makowicz in his place for ten weeks last year and did rather well. Unfortunately, Washington doesn't have the type of establishment that can offer any act ten weeks to establish itself, whether you can pronounce the name or not.
Still, "Adam" should remind us that Poland is good for a lot more than ethnic jokes. Adam Makowicz is a talent that should continue to impress.