Wacław Zimpel Quartet

Stone Fog
Fortune 0009/009

One of the few Polish jazzers with an international profile, Poznań-native Wacław Zimpel is mostly known through his work in one of Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark’s Euro-American ensembles. At the same time the clarinetist has established himself as a leader with his own bands, including the one on this CD, featuring German drummer Klaus Kugel.

Although Stone Fog fits snugly in the genre of atmospheric, Nordic scene-setting and adornment, six earlier tunes chug along before ample sonic rewards are audible. “One Side of my Face is colder than the other” and “Stone Fog”, the penultimate and final tracks may be chock full of vibrant creative improvising, but the earlier ones meander through a miasma of similar tempos timbres and textures. Although the satisfaction engendered by the last two tunes is like suddenly watching an energized runner start sprinting after an episode of desultory pacing, is the delayed pleasure worth it? Perhaps in a live situation Zimpel could concretely demonstrate the building process that goes into transforming introversion to action, but an aural media is more unforgiving.

There’s no quarrel with the band members’ individual talents. German bassist Christian Ramond has been part of similar configurations led by clarinetist Theo Jörgensmann and others; Polish pianist Krzysztof Dys also part of trumpeter Maciej Fortuna’s group; while Kugel has worked with everyone from trombonist Steve Swell to saxophonist Roby Glod. However as this CD evolves, the collection of key strokes, drum clanks, positioned reed glissandi too often move leisurely, if not downright sluggishly. Only when “Hundreds of Wings Steel the Sun” arrives do the four begin to loosen up a bit. By the track’s finale Kugel’s strokes are rebounding and Dys’ pianism is galloping though supportive glissandi and percussive key slaps. Finally Zimpel too concentrates on transforming discordant whistles and split tones into laughing timbres that emphasize torque as well as staccato linearity.

From there it’s just a short step to the superior final tunes. Carefully timed, with processional piano coloring, the title tune is more legato than the others. It also gives Ramond a chance to balance his low-pitched thwacks with piano cadenzas. Overall though, “One Side of my Face is colder than the other” is the CD’s highpoint. Mixing a piano part that supplies an ostinato while varying the narrative from semi-abstract to semi-romantic, it’s also a Zimpel showcase. Dexterous and colorful his playful lines ricochet into collective exhilaration when joined by piano key-clipping and buzzing bass strings.

In tough economic times one can’t say exceptional playing on two tracks is worth the CD’s price of admission. But if Zimpel and company could create a future CD along the lines of the last two tracks, that will be a worthy investment.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Cold Blue Sky 2. Old Feet Fell Out The Path 3. A Sudden Shift Missed 4. As the Moon Dips in Nettles 5. Hundreds of Wings Steel the Sun 6. River Willows Sway 7. One Side of my Face is colder than the Other 8. Stone Fog

Personnel: Wacław Zimpel (clarinet and bass clarinet); Krzysztof Dys (piano); Christian Ramond (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums)