Poles together

Jazz guitarist Rafal Sarnecki plays up his Eastern European background – but in a subtle way.

Rafal Sarnecki 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rafal Sarnecki 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When 29-year-old Polish jazz guitarist Rafal Sarnecki arrives for a three-date tour here next week, he will probably not feel entirely out of place. “I know a lot of Israeli jazz musicians,” says Sarnecki, “and I studied with quite a few at the New School [for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York]. So it’s nice to be coming to Israel to play.”
One longtime Israeli pal, New York resident bassist Avri Borochov, will be on stage with Sarnecki at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv on Monday (8 p.m.), Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem on Tuesday (9:30 p.m.) and HaEzor Club in Tel Aviv on Wednesday (9:30 p.m.). They will be joined by saxophonist Hagai Amir, pianist Nitay Hershkovits and drummer Yonatan Rosen.
Sarnecki’s tour here is supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and The Polish Institute. Sarnecki says his long-standing friendship with Borochov will come in handy next week. “We played a lot together when we were at the New School, and he played my compositions, so it’s really lucky that we can play together again.”
Relocating from Poland to New York for his studies was a wise move for Sarnecki, and not just because of the academic standard at the New School. “First of all, it meant that I was in New York, and just being there was really great,” the guitarist notes. “But the New School is also a very open-minded school. I could try to find many new things, many new styles of music. I felt that the New School was very different from all the other schools I went to. It was very useful for progressing with improvisation and composition.”
That certainly comes through strongly in the lead guitarist’s second album, The Madman Rambles Again, which will provide the basis for most of the three shows here next week.
“I was trying to use the same improvisational and compositional techniques but in different cultural contexts,” explains Sarnecki. “There is a little bit of Latin music and a bit of avantgarde style, and there’s a bit of the [German record label] ECM [atmospheric] style.”
Interestingly, over the last 40 years ECM has put out recordings by musicians from a very wide range of countries and cultures, and part of the leader’s cultural background tends to come through.
So, does Sarnecki feel there is something uniquely Polish about what he does? “Yes, I do think so, but it’s very subtle,” he says. “It’s always interesting for me that Polish people don’t hear Polish elements in my music. It’s more the American people who hear Polish things in my music. I don’t relate to Polish folk music in a direct way, but there is something about the melodic feel and the rhythmic feel that comes from the Polish culture.”
Sarnecki says his artistic output is partly a byproduct of his age rather than his nationality. “I grew up during a time when Polish folk music was not popular, so I think it would be a little unnatural for me to use Polish folk music in my compositions. But I know that even listening to Polish pop songs made me aware of some Polish melodic elements which come from Polish folk music, not directly but in a more subtle way,” he explains.
Sarnecki’s personal chronology is also an important factor. “My generation grew up in a capitalist world, not like people like [69- year-old Polish jazz trumpeter] Tomasz Stanko. My generation didn’t fight for freedom [from the communist regime]. For the older generations, jazz was a symbol of freedom against communism. For me, it’s very different. My music has no political meaning, and it is not a protest against anything.”
Sarnecki feels he has made good progress since putting out his debut album, Songs from a New Place, which came out in 2008. “I now know more about instrumentation and about counterpoint. The new CD has a much wider instrumentation. I included saxophone, flute, trumpet and percussion, which are not available on the first CD. Also, I often use two melodic lines at the same time. And using counterpoint was definitely because of having more of an influence of classical music. I experimented a lot more with the second CD, also because I was aware of so many more things compared with the first CD.”
The Madman Rambles Again is certainly a wide-ranging effort, and Sarnecki’s shows here next week will cover lots of sonic and stylistic bases. They will also incorporate some tracks from Songs from a New Place and some new material Sarnecki is working on.
“I am planning the next CD. You’ve got to keep planning ahead,” he says.
Rafal Sarnecki will play at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv on Monday (8 p.m.); Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem on Tuesday (9:30 p.m.); and HaEzor Club in Tel Aviv on Wednesday (9:30 p.m.). For more information: www.polishinstitute.org.il and www.rafalsarnecki.com.