"I couldn't think of anything more inspiring, motivating and ear-opening than working with Pat. He's been my first and most important mentor for years, but to actually make music with him was the most thrilling experience in my life..." . So comments Polish vocalist Anna Maria Jopek on their project Anna Maria Jopek and Friends with Pat Metheny: Upojenie.
Anna Maria is, as her website tells us, "a classically trained pianist who graduated from Chopin's Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland. After briefly studying in Manhattan School of Music's Jazz Department, Anna decided not to play Mozart concertos anymore and trade her beloved Ravel for Keith Jarrett, Philharmonic Hall for a small, smoky clubs and theatres. "Please do not file my music under jazz", she desists, however. "Nor under pop, folk - whatever. I embrace a lot of influences. Jazz is by far the most important in its freedom, its harmony and its sense of time, but I was brought up with the old Polish folk songs. So I'm kind of rooted here in all these Slavic landscapes and sounds"."
10 albums under her belt; concerts with ECM trumpeter Tomasz Stańko; concerts with Joe Lovano and former King Crimson frontman Gordon Haskell; winner of Michel Legrand's Personal Award in Witebsk in 1994, not to mention literally all of the Polish prestigious awards plus Gold and Platinum records... and I just discovered her and Upojenie in a Russian audiophile's home here in Cyprus. Better late than never reads the apology signed in tears.
Upojenie, in a nutshell, is the lyrical heart of Pat Metheny put to song in 19 numbers. His famous "Follow Me" from Imaginary Day turns out to be based on the Polish song "Gdzie Nie Siega Wzrok", now led by Jopek's breathy voice. The entire album is filled with instantly recognizable Metheny tunes (many introduced on Jopek's piano), Polish folks songs and several originals co-penned by Anna Maria and husband. Pat is ever present on his broad cadre of instruments. This includes the 42-string pikasso and his trademark synth effects. Those can transform his guitar into something between a Japanese koto and a Chinese erhu for the opener "Cichy Zapada Zmrok" for example. On the famous "Are you going with me", he ascends to the very bridge of his fretboard with soaring upper-register arpeggios in an extended and impassioned Meth solo which, in this setting, seems to burn with even higher intensity than on certain of his own albums.
Perhaps because of the Polish lyrics comprehensible only to a few listeners; perhaps because of the singer's advanced musical instincts; Jopek's voice becomes far more instrumental color than lead. This is not only perfectly appropriate but arguably essential when attempting to transform instantly recognizable Pop-Jazz hits into vocal numbers. Rather than songs per se, they remain harmonically sophisticated compositions with extended thematic arcs that now simply happen to feature additional tone colors. What could have turned sonic gruel becomes instead quite the sophisticated feast, especially for those listeners who adore Pat Metheny's art when it plays on the more elegiac moody end of the scales. Upojenie then is the rather unexpected - a generously long, intimate Jazz club outing that features Pat Metheny accompanying and soloing alongside a very gifted singer/pianist with a gloriously wistful delivery in a tongue you'll likely never identify but fall in love with nonetheless. Considering, those are rather rare ingredients for potent musical magic. And in fact, the wand they wave weaves the magic in wonderfully compelling ways. It only took me four years to discover this album after it was released but it proves more than worth the delay. Play it again - Anna & Pat...