Krzysztof Komeda

" Svvaki´ music is incredibly entertaining and one of the best scores Komeda has ever written. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the music as heard in the movie

Ssaki (Mammals, 1962) is a silence short film by Roman Polanski. It´s a slapstick comedy that knows simple concept of two men quarreling over who should be pulling a sledge across a snowy landscape. The score was done by Krzysztof Komeda.

Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969) was an important jazz musician that was recognized in Poland and the rest of Europe as the most important person to work on Polish free jazz. His album Aegestic(1965), performed by his Komeda Quintet, including the famous trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, is arguably one of his finest achievements. This same Stanko was involved in a series of new releases, honouring the legacy of Komeda. Alongside his career in jazz he wrote scores to more than 40 films, increasingly adopting more elements of classical, experimental and pop music, which is also evident in his collaborations with director Roman Polanski. He began to write music to his short films, continuing with scores to full-length films Nóz w Wodzie , Cul-de-Sac and Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (segment "La Rivière de Diamants"), before expanding on his usual jazz score and typical 60s sounds, with variations of a haunting wordless chorus in Dance of the Vampires/The Fearless Vampire Killers and his portion of electronics, strings and the shivering lullaby for Rosemary´s Baby.

Ssako is Polanski´ exercise in old-fashioned slapstick. To me, it wasn´t such a great short, but it is Komeda´ whimsical music that brings it to live. He relies on two amusing musical ideas throughout the score. The first consists of a mandolin, sleigh bells (the sledge has no bells) and a small jazz formation playing a tongue-in-cheek theme for every single moment the sledge is on the move. Each the sledge comes to a halt, playful bass strings and woodwind emerge. Both these musical ideas are constantly repeated, each time in slightly different disguises.

The music to Nod w Wodznie (Knife in the Water) features one peculiar moment in which the composer provides unnecessary mickey-mousing, but when a woodwind mimics a character moving vividly through the snow in Svvaki, it is all can you wish for. The clumsiness of the two men, increasingly more frenetic in demanding their righteous place on the sledge, is brilliantly transcribed for music. As the quarrel between the men ends in actual fighting, Komeda´s music becomes more free in his musical language.

I strongly object to the odd beliefs of the composer, thinking that modern pictures only need modern jazz and that nothing else can establish as much as this. But on a old-fashioned short as this such an approach is spot on. Ironically, the best short Polanski ever made (Gdy spadają anioły/When Angels Fall) is something very different from the kind of jazz sound he swore by. Svvaki´ music is incredibly entertaining and one of the best scores Komeda has ever written.

The music remains unreleased.

(written 11-10-2019)
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