Tonight the Umbrella Music Festival kicks off with the “European Jazz Meets Chicago” program at the Chicago Cultural Center. One of the performers we didn’t get a chance to talk about in the paper is a reedist from Gdansk, Mikolaj Trzaska, who makes his Chicago debut with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang. He’s an important figure in Polish improvised music with a sizable discography to prove it, and also owns and operates the Kilogram label, which mostly releases his own work, but sometimes issues the music of other fellow travelers.

When his participation was first announced a few months ago, I admit I’d never heard of the guy. The first records I managed to listen to put me in the mind of brawny German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann–though unsurprisingly Trzaska lacks his tanklike power. Trzaska has also worked with bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and drummer Peeter Uuskyla, the same Finnish Danish rhythm section Brötzmann has been favoring in recent years. I’ve heard some more of Trazaska’s albums since, and I’m pleased to report that, like Brötzmann, he has a vocabulary that includes more than just wild blowing. NOC, for example, is a low-key collaboration with Polish-born, Cologne-based multi-instrumentalist Paul Wirkus, whose electronic squiggles and prepared percussion interact surprisingly gently and gracefully with Trzaska’s bass clarinet and alto sax, harmonica, and wooden flute; Kantry, on the other hand, is a conceptual work heavy with spoken-word samples.

I’m guessing his company this evening will push him into free-jazz turf, but he also plays Saturday night gig at the Hideout with a group I’m less sure what to expect from: guitarist Evan O’Reilly, drummer Tomas Fujiwara (both subtle players and members of Taylor Ho Bynum’s sextet), and Swiss bassist Christian Weber.

Today’s playlist:

Trio 3D, Tema 3D (Sony/BMG, Brazil)
Megafaun, Bury the Square (Radium)
Garth Knox, D’Amore (ECM)
Jamie Baum Septet, Solace (Sunnyside)
Singer, Unhistories (Drag City)