Bartosz Hadala Group – “The Runner Up”
Is Jazz a universal music or what? Polish pianist (NYC-based for the last six years) Bartosz Hadala is living proof. The young award-winning piano prodigy left his native Poland for Berklee and later Western Michigan University before pursuing his dream in the Big Apple. That he is succeeding is underlined by the fact that highly acclaimed drummer Antonio Sanchez backs up Hadala, while veteran trumpeter Randy Brecker also appears on this debut album. And the album is truly a knockout. Songs like the opening Salt Water, The One Call Behind, Another You and the jittery The B Files simply bristle with exuberant energy and enthralling musical twists and turns. And wait until you hear the incredible version of A Night in Tunisia (the only cover) which is the coolest reworking of that often-played tune I think I have heard. The odd time signatures and fine soprano work by Rovatti on the opening of the ever-changing nine-minute Steve Wonders Why make you think that prog rockers Gentle Giant met Tower of Power at a jam held at Wayne Shorter’s house.
This is high-energy music – Hadala only slows it down on the unsentimental ballad Madame – seven songs into the album, but it is a nice change of pace and an electric undercurrent even seeps through on this piece (a nice change from the overload of somber and soggy music that often passes my desk these days). After this lovely interlude, the musical Viagra kicks back in on the burning title track, followed by the lighthearted A Sunday Walk (with percussionist Kevin Garcia), before the band simply burns down the house with the ending hard-bopper Any Way.
Bassists Dave Anderson on incendiary electric, and Noriko Ueda on acoustic match their leader in potency and combine with Sanchez to create some serious undertow – while also pitching in with intense solos. Saxophonist Ada Rovatti adds tough lines over the ever-shifting musical landscapes. Sanchez is one of the finest up-and-coming drummers in the business – and his work here is exemplary, while Brecker’s appearances on The B Files, Stevie Wonders Why and Any Way add another layer of edginess to this already heart-racing presentation.
But it is Hadala’s inventiveness on the piano that is the key (so to speak) to these strong compositions. With a somewhat Pilc-like melodic touch and a Monk-on-steroids rhythm feel, Hadala consistently surprises with his unique directions. And I think he is on to something here. By taking Monk-like rhythms and intervals and pumping them up with speed, multiple changes and major funkage, he has discovered a new direction for the music – kind of like what innovative bassist Flea did with the Red Hot Chili Peppers – when he took funky Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham-type bass parts and played them at punk speed and with punk attitude and by doing so changed everything the musical landscape forever. The debut of the year so far – a star has arrived.