My Polish Music Loot

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The vinyl section at Krakow’s Empik

By Ernest Barteldes

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am a big music scavenger – give me enough time around a store and I’ll unearth some gems. I did that during all our trips to Brazil and also anywhere else we have enough time to stop and shop a bit. That of course happened when we started planning our latest trip to Poland. There are a handful of artists I follow, but imports are way too expensive, and for some reason neither iTunes nor Amazon carry mp3 albums by  artists I am interested in.

This time around it was not just about music.  Shortly before we left for Poland I had finished reading Zygmunt Miloszewski’s “A Grain of Truth” and learned that the movie version had been released on DVD. I had no way to find out if the film (which turned out to be superb – more on that in the future) had been popular in Poland, so I wasn’t sure I’d find it on shelves. Renata and I talked and decided to order a copy of the movie from Empik, a large retailer of music and books that has stores all over Poland (think Barnes & Noble when it was still cool) and ship it to Renata’s parents’ home.

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Secret by Anna Maria Jopek

When we arrived, the DVD was there waiting for us – and a couple of other orders Renata made to the same store. A few days later, I went out to look for music, but found the local store to be a bit scarce. They barely had any music from Anna Maria Jopek  – one of my all-time favorite Polish singers – in stock, and the titles they did have were already part of my collection. I bought Jopek’s Secret, her sole English-language album to date and browsed through their Polish music shelf, and found some albums by Chelm native Ania Dąbrowska.  I stumbled into her name while doing research for an unrelated article and found out she’d covered a Queen song during her participation on the Polish version of Pop Idol. I heard some of her music online and was quite impressed.  When I saw W spodniach czy w sukience? I immediately picked it up. The disc turned out to be a fun, retro-70s feel collection of songs with great arrangements, and I made a mental note to look for more of her music.

I was still a bit frustrated that I hadn’t found all the titles I needed, but then I had the idea of looking them up online and ordering in-store delivery and found her fantastic Id (featuring guest appearances of Branford Marsalis, Minu Cinelu, Richard Bona and Christian McBride) and one of her latest, the independently released Polanna, which she showcased during her recent US tour.  When I picked up the package, I again browsed through the music section and decided to pick up Dąbrowska’s  debut album Samotność po zmierzchu, which I found to be even more interesting than the previous one I got – plenty of clever basslines and jazz-inspired grooves with an uncompromising pop drive that is both radio-friendly and intriguing.

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Ania Dabrowka’s debut CD

As we moved on to Warsaw, Zakopane and Krakow, we kept on stopping at Empik stores – our hotels were all walking distance to local malls, and since we were walking by we would browse around. Renata was interested in health and fitness books and had been looking at some  written by Anna Lewandowska, the wife of Polish soccer star Robert Lewandowski.  While she decided which title to pick one, I noticed that there was a bargain bin, and among music I had no idea about was Bossa So Nice, a compilation of Brazilian music. I usually ignore those because most have tracks I already own, but this one was different – sure, there were those obvious Stan Getz recordings, but there were also a bunch of tunes I had never heard before – at least in those voices. The price was very low for a 2-disc set, so I picked it up – the first time I had ever seen or purchased Brazilian music in Poland.

 

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Bossa So Nice 

 

I am still working on listening to the stuff, so a more elaborate comment on them will come in due time. So far I have enjoyed most of them but have not formed much of an opinion for a proper review. But do check this music out if you can.

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An Afternoon at the 11th Edition of The Polish Film Festival

11th Polish Film Festival

Anthology Archives

May 2, 2015

By Ernest Barteldes

I am an occasional fan of Polish movies, and have been way before I even met Renata (most assume my interest is because of our relationship, but the fact is that I had been exposed to the music and cinema of Poland years before I met her), but for some reason I had never attended any of the 10 previous editions of the NY Polish Film Festival – something I remedied this year.

When I heard about the event , I invited a number of friends to go, but few responded. I looked up the schedule and found one by Jerzy Stuhr, a director whose career I have erratically followed  since I saw his Love Stories (Historie miłosne, 1997), a clever film that he wrote, directed and starred in, playing four different characters who are given a life choice – and the consequences that come with those decisions.

I went alone on Saturday afternoon (Renata had another commitment at that time) to catch Stuhr’s latest film, “Citizen”(Obywatel), a satire about a man who grew up within the confines of the Polish communist government and then has a hard time adapting to the new reality, losing break after break until one unexpected turn comes around.

We see the story mostly through flashbacks – Sturh’s character has a debilitating accident early in the film and then we see his life all the way from his days as a young man (played by his son, Maciej) all the way to present time – and his current predicament.

I feel that Stuhr has a very similar style to that of Woody Allen – he takes current events in his country and builds highly personal stories. For instance, Sex Mission borrowed from Allen’s “The Sleeper” and then expands to something way deeper.

After a brief break that included Zwiec beer and some snacks, Renata and our friend David joined me for the next film, “Gods,” a story based on the true story of Zbigniew Religa (Tomasz Kot) the doctor who performed the first successful heart transplant in Poland.

The story follows Zeliga’s battle not only with authorities but also the frame of mind of the time – that the heart might be somehow a sentient organ, and that a transplant would at least be likened to stealing someone’s soul.

“Gods” was superbly acted and made, reflecting with accuracy the time but also the politics behind medical advancement in Poland during communism. No wonder the film was awarded Best Film at the end of the festival. In addition, Kot was deservedly  awarded best actor for his amazing performance.