Past Forward

This is jazz in all its contemporary potential, pulsating, exhilarating, sensuous, infectious, uncanny impression of wholeness, and in all of it it’s hip.

Although English has been jazz’ primary language, there is no law stating that jazz must be performed in English 100 percent of the time. Jazz can sound great in Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Italian, as well as in various Germanic languages; in Sweden, some vocalists have brought a jazz perspective to Scandinavian folk songs. But what about Polish? On this adventurous and generally excellent CD, Grazyna Auguscik demonstrates that Polish lyrics can, in fact, be appropriate for jazz singing. Some jazz purists and bop snobs might claim that what the Poland-native-turned-Chicago-resident does on Past Forward isn’t really jazz — that it’s simply world music with jazz overtones. But thankfully, Auguscik has a broader, more expansive view of jazz than the Stanley Crouch/Wynton Marsalis crowd, and she is insightful enough to realize that jazz singing doesn’t have to be a faceless Sarah Vaughan clone giving us yet another knee-jerk version of “My Funny Valentine.”
Auguscik brings a wide variety of influences to this material (some of which is based on traditional Polish folk songs), and they range from fellow Polish singer Urszula Dudziak to Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett and ECM Records to Brazilian singer Flora Purim. Although Brazil is a long way from her native Poland, Auguscik often draws on Purim’s influence — especially when she gets into wordless scat improvisations. Occasionally, Auguscik sings in English, which can be problematic because her accent is quite heavy (in contrast to Sweden’s Jeanette Lindström, Holland’s Fay Claassen, and many other European jazz vocalists who sing in perfect English). But that’s a problem that Auguscik can work on and correct with the right vocal coach. Past Forward is still a fascinating, visionary effort from a distinctive artist who obviously isn’t afraid to take risks.

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