Before the Iron Curtain fell completely, it drew open just enough to let a movement of pure creative experimentation and expression emerge out of Poland that proved to be one of the unlikeliest but most rewarding movements in 20th century jazz. Pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda spent his twenties woodshedding with so many different jazz musicians and in so many different styles that by the time his native country started warming to jazz in the late ’50s, he’d already run a gamut of American influences and emerged with a Quintet that was intent on establishing a more uniquely European sound. That vision culminated in Astigmatic, widely regarded as a masterpiece not just of Polish jazz but of the genre as a whole. Years spent composing for films meant Komeda’s compositions had an evocative dynamism, and combining that experience with a beyond-the-blues m.o. that simultaneously reached back to classical influences and ahead to the Dolphy/Coltrane avant-garde gave this music a deep intricacy. Pierced by the fearless soloing of trumpeter Tomasz Stańko and alto sax player Zbigniew Namysłowski, and lent a relentless drive by the rhythm section of drummer Rune Carlsson and bassist Günter Lenz, Astigmatic feels like a collective effort in musical worldbuilding — a musically egalitarian future being shaped in the face of the unknown.

Nate Patrin