Switchback

Switchback
MultiKulti MPI 026

Wacław Zimpel To Tu Orchestra

Nature Moves

ForTune 0036 (025)

Clarinetist Wacław Zimpel could be the poster boy for modern Polish improvised music. Unlike pop music or film idols whose celebrity commonly consists of being able to repeatedly play the same role, the Warsaw-based reedist has created international interest because of his extreme versatility. With playing partners raging from trombonist Steve Swell to kotoist Michiyo Yagi, Zimpel defies simple characterization.

Take these two sessions, recorded within two weeks of one another. On Nature Moves the clarinetist’s six reductionist compositions are played by a Polish nonet with the taunt economy of a duo. Besides stoic timbral examination related to microtonal notated sounds, the pieces also include improvisational outpourings and Occidental echoes. Like trying to compare a dwarf and a giant, Switchback couldn’t provide more of a contrast. Four shards of sinewy Free Jazz, Zimpel symbolically butts heads with Americans, saxophonist/flutist Mars Williams and bassist Hillard Greene as well as German percussionist Klaus Kugel, who has toured with Charles Gayle.

While the clarinet-saxophone front line isn’t common, like two wild felines of different locations but equal ferocity, Zimpel and Williams are compatible enough as they pump out raucous vibrations from the get-go. With Kugel’s drum rolls and rebounds plus Greene’s bass string bumps and pokes seconding, the two spurt irregular crying patterns north and southwards. Although spewing vocalized tones harmonize as if they were sentries standing next to one another in a reviewing line, Williams’ are usually altissimo and unbridled, while Zimpel’s are more moderated and constrained.

These pressurized narratives continue throughout the live session recorded in Dresden. Sonically and symbolically they define ugly-beauty singly and together, shifting the exposition from one reedist to the other. With slide-whistle-like respites provided by flute timbres, sul tasto string asides or dinosaur-weighted drum plops momentarily sundering the inspiration, the four so carefully balance the narrative flow that any lesions are sutured together with the speed and efficiency of paramedics.

“Night Shift on Red Planet” and the title track are the extended high points of the disc. The second is a tremolo juggernaut which is one of those showcases that appear to flow endlessly. Racing from altissimo to chalumeau and back again, exposing as many multiphonics as yodelers’ tones, ascribing individual timbres is nearly impossible. Meanwhile Kugel and Greene keep up equivalent churning textures. “Night Shift on Red Planet” begins as a restrained bass feature, and throughout the piece Greene’s stopping moves in and out of the foreground with the sureness of a cartoon villain hiding himself behind a reed-thin tree. However the chief narration involves the four splitting into two duos: Williams and Kugel and Zimpel and Greene. Despite notable bass-string-stropping and cymbal-rim shot luminosity though, the focus is firmly on the reed players. Williams mercurially smears, reeds bites and flutter tongues with monomaniacal-like intensity, but never loses the thematic thread. For his part, Zimpel is relaxed like a professional gambler at a house party game of bridge. While at points he and Williams combine to produce timbres that could be labeled march of the falsettos, most of the time he maintained a comforting reed command. Solos are constructed with the facility of a Benny Goodman and with pointillist seriousness of Jimmy Giuffre.

Just as Switchback confirms Zimpel's improvisational skills, than the nearly 77-minute Nature Moves does the same for his compositional smarts. Premiered at Warsaw’s Pardon To Tu club, which gives the orchestra it’s unique handle, the suite is played by some of Poland’s top improvisers: A reed section of Dominik Strycharski (alto and tenor recorders), Zimpel (A, Bb and alto clarinets) and Paweł Postaremczak (tenor and soprano saxophones); two bassists: Wojtek Traczyk and Mike Majkowski, who is actually Australian; two percussionists: Paweł Szpura and Hubert Zemler plus Jacek Kita on upright piano and Maciej Cierliński on hurdy-gurdy. From start to finish, like pungent onions served on top of masterfully prepared Polish pierogies, it’s the last instrument whose cranked splatters provide the characteristic folk-like vibrations in the program.

In essence the disc is divided into three: the almost 29 minutes “Cycles”, the three-part “Nature Moves” and the two-part “North”. Designed as major statement by its sheer length “Cycles” is a curbed yet celebratory creation whose textural synthesis flows on minimalist currents. With intermittently duplicated piano patterning creating a feeling of nearly endless simplicity and abetted by string sweeps, the horizontal exposition is occasionally breeched by hurdy-gurdy judders or monetary bleeps from a reedists like a pungent spice tossed into a hearty stew. Both eastern-sounding and mystical, the sonic spell isn’t broken until its final section when the layers unfurl enough for percussion splashes. Climatically the piece is then nudged into rhythmic sophistication via Postaremczak’s jazz-oriented expressiveness coupled with Zimpel’s whistled simplicity, until it comes to an amiable gutsy conclusion.

Postaremczak is the most arresting soloist throughout. When it comes to “Nature Moves” for example it’s his Rahsaan Roland Kirk-like shouts and smears that add raucous hairiness to its mid section, after it first moves like the described “Dry Landscape” than “River” or “Under Surface”. Clipping piano, spicatto strings that replicate some sarod-like drones and vocalized recorder flutters ensure that the narrative resembles desert lizard scratches more than watery burbles. Brief kinetic percussion clashes are the only respite from the Necks-like microtonal inevitability before the saxophonist takes charge. Eventually light timbres from the strings plus shards of reed inferences build to a climax. But even with awakened percussion pumps the piece ends rather than concludes.

More invigorating is the two-part “North”. Midway through “Winter Walk” the snow-like crunches and swishes give way to a courtly rhythmic motif led by Cierliński’s cranking drones and Strycharski’s echoing tones. But by the time the walk ambulates into the intersection of flat land and elevation, the strings coalesce into a near-electrical buzzing, Kita lays out some high frequency McCoy Tyner-like comping as the tenor saxophonist’s strategy seems to be to give John Coltrane Polish citizenship. Happily, while Postaremczak is soon joined by snarling glossolalia from the other horns and abrasive rubs from the percussionists, the result is more accordant than “Ascension”. Timbres and textures may expand shatter-shot-like every- which-way, but the finale matches Jazz improvisation with a distinct (Polish) folk tinge creating maximum individuality.

More proof – if any more was needed – of Zimpel's skill as a composer and player. Now all that’s missing are more discs from him.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Nature: 1. Cycles; Nature Moves: 2. River 3. Dry Landscape 4. Under Surface; North: 5. Winter Walk 6. Where the Prairie Meets the Mountains

Personnel: Nature: Dominik Strycharski (alto and tenor recorders); Wacław Zimpel (A, Bb and alto clarinets); Paweł Postaremczak (tenor and soprano saxophones); Jacek Kita (upright piano); Maciej Cierliński (hurdy-gurdy); Wojtek Traczyk, Mike Majkowski (bass); Paweł Szpura (drums); Hubert Zemler (drums, metalophone)

Track Listing: Switchback: 1. Four Are One 2. Switchback 3. Night Shift on Red Planet 4. Elegant Beauty

Personnel: Switchback: Wacław Zimpel (bass, alto, Bb clarinets, tarogato); Mars Williams (tenor, alto, soprano, sopranino saxophones); Hilliard Greene (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums)