Wednesday, September 30, 2020

EABS - Slavic Spirits (2019)


Marek Pędziwiatr - piano, fender rhodes, minimoog, korg, roland
Olaf Węgier - tenor saxophone
Tenderlonious - flute, saxophone
Jakub Kurek - trumpet
Vojto Monteur - electric guitar
Paweł Stachowiak - bass guitar
Marcin Rak - drums
Spisek Jednego - percussion

Slavic Spirits


By Adam Baruch

A couple of years ago (in 2017) a young Polish Jazz ensemble from Wrocław, called EABS, released their debut album "Repetitions (Letters To Krzysztof Komeda)" which created quite a stir in the local jazz swamp. Subsequently the ensemble released a couple of LPs with material still connected to Krzysztof Komeda's music, which together with the debut they call the "Komeda Triptych". The original septet lineup: keyboardist Marek Pędziwiatr, drummer Marcin Rak, guitarist Vojto Monteur, bassist Paweł Stachowiak, trumpeter Jakub Kurek, saxophonist Olaf Węgier and percussionist also in charge of sound fx Spisek Jednego (a.k.a. Piotr Skorupski) was expanded to an octet with the inclusion of British flautist/saxophonist Tenderlonious (a.k.a. Ed Cawthorne), which released their genuine second album. It presents original compositions by the band members, two by Pędziwiatr, one each by Stachowiak and Monteur and three collective compositions; altogether seven tracks lasting just under forty four minutes. More about the music later…

Similarly to the debut, the Limited Edition of this album includes an extensive essay by Sebastian Jóźwiak, the executive producer of the album, who is an organic member of the ensemble, their spokesman and sort of spiritual guru. The almost 300 pages long massive essay (in bilingual Polish/English version) printed in a book form is in fact an integral part of the release and presents the intellectual / historic / philosophical aspects of the subject matter, complimenting the musical content of the album, which as the title suggests tries to explore the "Slavic Spirit" in a multi-plane analysis attempt. More about the book later…

My reaction to the debut album was somewhat reserved but overall encouraging. I clearly stated my subjective pros and cons but I obviously misjudged the hysterical/hyperbolical/fanatical hype that was created around that album at the time of its release by what can be collectively called the Polish Jazz media and beyond. I refused, as always, to follow the crowd and pay allegiance to vox populi that claimed the album was a Godsend and a monumental event on the Polish Jazz scene, which I found overtly exaggerated. The predicted wave of internet hate that followed was a small price to pay for my intellectual liberty. Considering the average level of professionalism in contemporary Polish Jazz musical journalism and criticism, which is sadly inversely proportional to the level of the music itself, and the omnipresent herd mentality which dominates it, I have always proudly maintained an independent point of view, helped by the geographical distance and total lack of dependence on the social/economic/political and even religious constrains acting upon people living in Poland. Therefore I admit that I was quite surprised to find a copy of the album in my daily heap of albums arriving in the mail - which I interpret as a sign of trust in every case when someone asks for my opinion.

Whenever I write a review of an album recorded by Polish musicians and/or composed by Polish composers there is a high probability that the phrases "Polish lyricism" or "Polish melancholy" might appear within the text, which is only natural since Polish Music generally across all genres, but especially so within the Polish Jazz idiom, offers a spirituality which is probably indescribable in words (see "Dancing about Architecture"), but is very easily recognizable while listening to it. With this album EABS go on a journey of discovery of this particular musical Polishness, which they expand into musical Slavic Spirituality. Although Poles and the various ethnic Polish minorities are of course part of the Slavic peoples, they are in fact a minority within the Slavic global identity and therefore perhaps this generalization is slightly overstretched. Nevertheless the idea is to define the Slavic Spirituality musically, by the music on this album, as well as by the text which examines its other aspects.

The music is diametrically different from what the ensemble offered on their debut. It does not include any vocal parts, no Hip Hop, almost no electronics except for some limited sound effects, in short it makes an almost complete about-face towards mainstream melodic Jazz, which features extended soloing by the keyboards, the saxophones and the trumpet. The three short collective improvisations serve as introductions to the extended main compositions that follow. The four main compositions are developed slowly towards a final climax featuring group improvisation. The melodic themes are undoubtedly lyrical and melancholic, well structured and admittedly beautiful.

That said the question arises if this music is an epitome, a classic/archetypical example of Polish Jazz, which defines its Slavic Spirituality? In all fairness I feel that such a lofty ambition would be beyond the true scope of this music. I'd even say that any attempt to define an entire Cultural aesthetics by one piece of music, regardless how ingenious it might be, is a priori futile.

The text accompanying the album is however much closer to the goal it sets before the reader. It is by no means a scholarly, academic research, impeccably organized and proposing a deterministic outcome. It is a complete opposite; a collection of personal (or rather collective) reflections on the subject of ethnic spirituality, historic processes, religious believes and myths, Paganism and Christianity and many others. The development of contemporary Polish music and its connection to the Slavic Spirituality is approached via an examination of the key personalities that shaped its fate, most extensively Czesław Niemen (a deeply spiritual person) in the chapter entitled "Inspirations". The opening track and each of the four main compositions on the album has a chapter dedicated to it, which explains in depth the Slavic believes, cults and deities connected to the names of the tracks.

Although reading the entire text is challenging, it is also intellectually rewarding and highly educational, full of facts and ideas which probably never occurred to most people before coming across it. The chapter dealing with the Slavic aspects of Polish music is a must read to all connoisseurs, especially the younger ones who did not experience that music during their lifetime. The most important aspect of the text is that is does not try to indoctrinate or impose any views or ideologies on the reader. It presents an impressive collection of facts and views, but leaves the interpretation of the above to the reader himself.

If anybody got finally here, it is time to summarize; this is a very ambitious project, which combines excellent music with well written text related to the subject the music and the text are dedicated to. The music is enjoyable and accessible, superbly performed and offering a rewarding listening experience, which many listeners might enjoy repeatedly. Probably fewer people will have the stamina required to read the entire test attentively, although it is most highly recommended. Overall a splendid piece of dedicated work, which hopefully this time will be appreciated for what it is but not unnecessarily overhyped, which can only case grief and damage in the long term. Well done Gentlemen!

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