EABS discuss Letters to Krzysztof Komeda and the elder wisdom of Michał Urbaniak

EABS are an ensemble fully embracing the contemporary jazz ‘renaissance’. Originating from Poland, the forward-thinking septet have struck a chord with musicians and music fans in Britain, building upon the sound of Polish jazz’s third wave with rhymes, upfront rhythm and electronic texture. Their debut LP, released on Astigmatic records last year, is a sublime and diverse effort. Extending over fusion, be-bop, avant-garde jazz and hip-hop, it is most importantly: ‘a dedication to Polish Jazz legend Krzysztof Komeda.’ Its nine songs are plucked from his vast catalogue, lovingly reinterpreted by fresh ears, for a new audience. Ahead of their debut headline show at Band on the Wall, we spoke to the group about their relationship with Tenderlonious, their collaboration with fusion luminary Michał Urbaniak and their forthcoming release schedule.

Your debut record is astonishing – Gordon Wedderburn called it ‘an album for 2017’ when he introduced you at Total Refreshment Centre earlier this year. Was it always your intention to frame old material in a contemporary style and did you expect the response to be so warm and strong?

‘We were just playing music in the spirit of love. Thus, we have always paid tributes because we respect those who gave us inspiration to be who we are now. Back in the days it was Dilla, Pete Rock, Madlib or Dj Premier. Later on, Ahmad Jamal, David Axelrod, Miles Davis or Bob James. We finalized this period releasing Puzzle Mixtape (on cassettes) comprised of our jams inspired by those artist. We gave all the 200 copies away. Next, we realized that we have our own vast heritage that is so called Polish Jazz. So, we dug through Komeda’s works. Actually, we were digging for real… in search of rare grooves with the “slavic spirit”. It was not forced in any way because we are just diggers. We are truly blessed that we can be part of jazz renaissance in Poland and here in London. To be honest, we didn’t expect it. It was a risky step, because there were many Komeda’s interpretations so far.’

Krzysztof wrote prolifically and his music was widely used. How did you go about selecting the compositions from his catalogue? For those who’re unfamiliar with his work, what’s the most notable aspect of his composing?

‘First of all, we ignored everything which was interpreted millions of times, eg. Rosemary’s Baby or Kattorna. We were watching rare films with Komeda’s soundtracks like Kraksa, Pingwin or Wiklinowy Kosz. We also dug through his background music composed specially for Polish poems recited in German (Meine süsse Europäische Heimat). It was a beautiful adventure, because those movies and poems automatically gave this music a sort of context. So, we put these pieces all together creating our story, the story of our contemporary world. Komeda had his own language. There were not too many musicians that you can recognize by a few notes. Actually, Komeda was “few notes”. His lines were so minimal but carrying tons of information in between. This deepness was filled with slavic melancholy, post-war trauma, hope, and sometimes even mysticism. I love Komeda. I feel the connection.’

Yourselves and Tenderlonious have developed a really special creative relationship in recent years. How did you first begin communicating and what can we expect to hear from Slavic Spirits and the 12” for 22a you worked on during his recent trip to Poland?

‘Our friend Lukas Wojciechowski from Astigmatic Records has been living in London for couple of years. He knew Oli from 22a so automatically he met Tenderlonious. It turned out that Ed is a true Polish jazz fan and one of his favourite album ever is Komeda’s Astigmatic. Tenderlonious told us that it is impossible to get into the Polish Jazz vibe in London with his fellow musicians. To achieve it, he had to come to Poland to play with Polish cats. This was uplifting for us. We realized that we have something special to offer and there is no need to be ashamed of your style and origin when others find it unique. Slavic Spirits is a suite about Polish ancient ghosts and mystic places (Ślęża). You can expect musical trip from the darkness to the Sun God named Swarożyc. You can expect our own compositions, no remakes. Whereas, 12 inch will comprise two unreleased tracks from Komeda’s material. We play them on our gigs and Ed loves them so much that he offered us to release this wax in UK. What is more, 12” was recorded live on tape! Mastering process will be straight from tape to vinyl – no computers, straight analog.’

Michał Urbaniak has been playing professionally for more than fifty years – did he share any wise words or advice with you when you first met and collaborated?

‘Yes, Michał is a highly experienced musician, but he is a great human being too. He told us simple things but very useful: ‘If you don’t know what to play, don’t play’ or ‘if you play in the jazz band, and if you dare going against the rules, it is you who will take responsibility of your brave step keeping the band together’.’

What are your plans for the rest of 2018 after your forthcoming tour?

‘There are 3 releases on the way: Repetitions Live, the UK 12” and Slavic Spirits. The first two are done already, so we put focus on mixing Slavic Spirits now. It will be out in Autumn. In October we will fly on tour to China! This will be pretty exciting! Next, in November we will be touring Poland supporting Marcus Miller. Beside these, there will be many many other interesting gigs. We are happy because we have our own rehearsal room with grand piano and recording studio so after this rush time now, we can prepare new music and record on our own.’