Romanian jazz, mythology, spirituality, and science fiction have had a strong relationship since the seventies. And so you can find a thin red dotted line between Electrecord LPs like Marius Popp’s Nodul Gordian, Ramon Tavernier and Cătălin Târcolea’s Panpipe In Jazz, and present days independent jazz artists like Adi Stoenescu and his group.
Adi was a student of the local jazz legend Marius Popp, whose architectural piano technique reverberated all over Eastern and Central Europe at jazz festivals, even during the communist era. Adi Stoenescu started to stand out and define his style since his contributions on the Arcuș Trio album Allotropy and with their Krisper band, Landing On The Comet, a song that owns a funny juxtaposition of science fiction and Romanian urban life sonic collages. Watching him perform with Iordache in Control club, the Suita Titan album was an electric tuning-in to his original frequency.
On November the 30th, Adi Stoenescu is releasing his debut album Waking Light. The album creates a mix of ideologies and musical languages by counterpointing the perfect progression and construction.
Tavi Scurtu refers beautifully to the album:
”Like in an elegant, even gracious game of emotional chess, the music of Adi Stoenescu gives you the impression that is thought a few moves ahead and this can be the reason why it tempts you to listen to it repeatedly with the hope of resolving the puzzle of numerous subtle surprises. The slalom through different stylistic references and jazz eras feels more like the glimpse of a new world than the complacent servitude of some ossified traditions.”
Hesitation I, the opening track sets the mood and tempo with melodic piano keys followed by a smooth saxophone bursting on top of a heavy syncopated groove. A much-needed fix. Adi’s soloing follows and his progressions of chords are punctuated marvelously by Borislav’s ride cymbal. The drummer's solo goes deep, attacking your liver, and thankfully it leaves room economically for Arnau Garrofe’s tenor saxophone uplifting solo. His melodies have some very subtle oriental notes.
Up next, the song Unfinished takes the steady rhythm of the Hesitation opener into darker forests. It flows properly with some very crystallized chords and relaxed progressions. Adi makes playing jazz feel easy, even though music sheets are his guilty pleasure. The foundation for this song is penned on paper, but the solos are organically improvised in a way that only this Bucharest-Sofia-Barcelona crew can provide. Certain poetry prevails in the rhythm of these light songs from a light adoring spiritual jazz album.
Waking Light comes in to pour some truth into the Romanian contemporary jazz game. It is about the space between the notes. What starts as a mellow swing becomes energy bursting vivaciously from each instrument and performer. The difference between the album title song and the ones before is the synergic dialogue between drums, piano, saxophone, and the bass. This is all the colors of the rainbow combined under the purest and cleanest air. Lucky are those in the front row, they might get a double rainbow!
If by now you know you are listening to a contemporary Romanian jazz album, when Vapors kicks in, you get to know Adi Stoenescu Group is also about indie music. As an unsigned band, they are an indie group, but I am talking about their music playlists, their record collections. Vapors are right there next to GoGo Penguin, Portico Quartet, and Shabaka Hutchings projects, though I can tell you for sure Adi listens to a lot of Kneebody and he admits it. The piano has some very sweet melodies complemented by the saxophone and a disjointed groove, almost funkier than Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Here comes the swingy Sneaky Detective, like a true detective, he is properly schooled to ride around Bucharest with style and fashion. The song has a perfectly balanced groove courtesy of Petrov and Ivanov and great saxophone solos and glissandos by Arnau Garrofe. Adi Stoenescu’s crystalline piano chords add up to the character sex appeal (Sherlock Holmes played by Robert Downey Jr., not Benedict Cumberbatch) and a sharply pressed superb drum solo by Bulgarian percussionist Borislav Petrov.
Underwater has one of Romania’s jazz best young mockingbirds, Marta Popovici, on high-pitched vocals, making this dream of an album a surrealist mythic fantasy. Adi’s piano and Borislav’s drums guide and assist Marta Popovici’s vocals towards the highlights of this promising record. The keys are playfully bucolic turning the abstract, urban jazz landscape into a ferric countryside sound postcard. This tune alone should be extended into a floaty follow-up to Waking Light, maybe called Waterfall Avenue. Marta’s lyrics are bliss, singing about city roads with sprinkling metaphors of the beauty of nature.
Rubato is a continuation of Vapors, an indie song disguised as jazz. What a piece of jewel this melody is! Seeing its sheet I can breathe the night air it evokes beautifully. Every note in here has a special effect of relaxation, emanated from both players and instruments. It would sound best pressed on vinyl and it would make justice to this whole textured album.
Coming back to the topic raised earlier about Romanian jazz artists and humor, here we have an acid jazz song called Power Rangers. Oh yes, not Captain Planet, no Turtles Ninja, but multi-billion selling “edutainment” series and toys who migrated from Japan/ Israel to Disneyland and back again. History lesson behind, this tune has something magical about it, which makes you want to hit play again and again. Even though this is a seven-minute song. I guess the true resemblance with Power Rangers is that nothing is boring in this melody, you’ve got piano solos swirling around joyously, a great drum and bass combo by Borislav and Mihail, and tireless saxophone, and all of them melted together could compete with Transformers.
The journey to the Waking Light ends with Hesitation II, a song that brings it all full circle with a reprise of the opening tune. This is a call to arms to hit the play button again and the last chord leaves us in the air, asking for more.
Adi Stoenescu Group is fresh and grounded, challenging our imagination.