Saturday, February 18, 2012

Waclaw Zimpel interviewed by Bartek Adamczak

Waclaw Zimpel has become one of a premier representants of polish jazz scene. While his music has reached an international level of recognition, there's little information to be found about him. I hope this interview will make up for this lack of information and make for a chance to get to know him better.

Bartek Adamczak (his blog : Many abroad know your music well but they don't know anything about you personally, could you, in a couple of words, tell something yourself, maybe present a sort of CV?

Wacław Zimpel: (laugh) O God no, it's too difficult, much better if one just listens to the music

B.A.: Could you tell us about the begginings of your adventure with music, about the choice of the instrument, your education etc?.

W.Z.: I began my musical education with violin, I played the instrument for 9 years. At certain moment I started to playmusic consciously, I mean I stopped feeling the barrier between me, the instrument on one side and the the music on the other . Through the first years of learning, playing always involved reading the notes. Because of the lumpyeducation system I, and probably many other kids, identified music with reading the notation. It could be interestingbut I didn’t feel any direct connection between what’s inside me and what’s on the other side - the sounds coming out ofthe instrument.

I began perceiving the music consciously, playing what I hear, once I started playing harmonica. I just played blues, the old kind, the ‘swamp’ blues. I listened a lot to guys like Sonny Boy Williamson or Eddie James “Son” House.

As for the clarinet, I just felt in love with the sound. Once I started listening to the very first jazz recordings, dixielandbands, clarinet’s sound enchanted me. I started playing clarinet in high school. After that I briefly played altosaxophone, which I stopped before the studies. Then bass clarinet and so on came along.

B.A.: You talk about breaking the barrier between what's inside youand the sounds that are outside, is it a sort of musical zen?

W.Z.: In a way, yes. In a certain moment the curtain fell down. It was obviously a result of a process, to really play the thingone hears, and this process still goes on, process of learning how to integrate the outside world and translate it into thesounds. I think this is a kind of integration and kind of crossing the boundaries. It’s tough to say where this music comesfrom because it can be discussed on many levels. The very behavioristic ones, or emotional, or spiritual.

The fact remains that there comes a moment when the instrument becomes an integral part of your body, and thesounds you play are mirroring what you have inside of you.

B.A.: In your music, for instance on the Light's cd “Afekty” or Undivided's “Passion”dedicated to the subject of suffering, one of the focal points was a kind of musicallanguage of emotions, could you elaborate on that?

W.Z.: At a certain point I was very interested in the baroque doctrine of theaffections. Well, the doctrine dates back to the antique but it wasduring the baroque that it reached its peak. Musicians of the eratranslated the theory of oral rhetoric into the musical rhetoric. Insimple terms - a given melodic, harmonic, rhythmic structure had aspecified meaning. And people who lived then understood perfectlythis language, language of motives that had a real semantic structure.

I was fascinated by this theory. It seemed to me, it still does, that onecan speak through music, which is on one hand a very abstract space,but, through sounds, one can say things that are very much notabstract. That one can codify proper musical language and consciouslyuse a specific musical area to speak about specific things.

This way of thinking has obviously it’s pros and cons, because themusician becomes as an actor and, if one decides to follow this way,one has to induce certain emotional states, using the emotionalmemory, so that the musical, sonic spaces he will call upon would beauthentic.

The cd by The Light “Afekty” is an attempt to codify emotions.Nonetheless all that I’m well aware that often, while I might thinksomething's clear and unequivocal, it still can have many meanings.

But there are some things, like the major and minor chord. Since the beginning of our musical education we’ve beentaught that major chord is happy and minor chord is sad. Of course one can say it’s a kind of cultural agreement. Butthere is something to the fact that even people who have nothing to do with the music identify the major chord as ahappy one and minor as a sad one. If one follows this path I think that the semantics of musical structures can beexpanded.

Today I treat this issue with much more freedom and I just let the emotions happen. Emotions, the doctrine ofaffections interest me much less now, although they’re still present in my music.

B.A.: The first cd Hera was inspired by greek mythology, Undivided's “Passion” refers to the Bible, and the second cd by the group “Moves Between Clouds” to Zohar. Are those inspirations a way to establish a kind of european culture's roots? In what way your art is inspired by those texts?

W.Z.: This  is a very complex matter. I referred through my music to many texts of european culture, moreover - the last cd by Hera is inspired by the Far East mysticism.

It’s true that one of the cds by Undivided is a Passion - a subject long present in european art. The decision to write Passion was motivated by my will to reflect through music on the subject of suffering, pain. And this is the most adapt way to speak about it.

All those texts are a great source of inspiration. I think that the essence of the Old Testament, New Testament, Zohar, Kabir’s poetry, great texts of eastern mysticism - they all say the same thing. And this thing should be, I wish it would be, the essence of what I’m doing in music.

That’s why I said emotions in music don’t interest me this much now. Because they stay in a specific, limited area.When you name something, you say something’s happy, there’s got to be also something else that’s sad. If you exit this sphere of contradictions than something just IS and naming it is completely unnecessary. It seems to me this is the essential meaning of the texts I’m inspired by and in some way I’m trying to translate it into sounds.

It’s not a literal use of the text, such as writing a song. It happens more on the level of experience - I dedicate myself to reading the text which results in a music of a certain character.

Only rarely the text serves as a direct point of reference, a fragment of new cd by Undivided “Moves Between Clouds”is based on a passage from Zohar that dictated the melody. Natural intervals of the language created a melodic line thatcould have been written down and played on the clarinet.

There are many levels on which those texts inspire me, but the most important is the mystical one - entering a statethat is then reflected in the music.

B.A.: This state, do you mean trance? Is it your intention to play trance music?

W.Z.: Trance is a tricky subject. You can play a drone, add a steady groove on tabla, it doesn’t mean you’ll have to do withmusic that is spiritual, mystical, trance. It certainly doesn’t work that way.
Trance is a state of mind and body and it can be achieved in many ways, also by playing Bach’s flute partita. It is truethat for over a year we’ve been exploring with Hera the rhythmic spaces of Far East, Middle East, Africa. It justbecame natural for us - we all listen to huge amounts of this kind of music and its forms became so close to us that at a certain point we just started playing them. And it is true we’ve been finding trance in this.

But that’s not the sense of it - our music may happen to be trance not because we use a steady groove but because ofthe state we achieve. And in this state we play music that can gain certain character, but at the same time it doesn’tneed to have a specified rhythm whatsoever.

The project “Ecstatic Music” with Michael Zerang is actually very different from the new Hera cd. I’d say it’s a u turn,stylistically. With Michael we make music that is much more opened, rhythmically as well as melodically, but there’s most definitely trance in it.

B.A.: You and Michael took part also in the special project of this year's Tzadik Festival in Poznan – you performed music by Jews from Yemen, music that's thousands years old – it's almost a musical archeology!

W.Z.: Michael Zerang, Raphael Roginski, Perry Robinson participated in this project. Actually, it was Raphael’s idea - to confront ourselves with this kind of music tradition. He gave me a plenty of of cds. I just copied some of the themes from that region of the world and we started playing them in the way that was natural for us, contemporary.

In a way, it can be called archeologic - we’re dealing with anunusually old musical tradition, but frankly I don’t feel thatit would be very distant from what we’re naturally doingnow. This melody is very close to us, so as the rhythms weplayed. So I’d say that those themes were just a pretext toenter the state of trance, which, I hope, is achieved not onlyby the musicians but also by the listeners.

B.A.: So, as there is no, or there should be no barrier between internal world and the sound, there's is there in Your oppinion no real distance between this world and such ancient music?

W.Z.: If we start analysing music, purely from a theoretic point of view : virtually in every culture a pentatonic scale can be found. A great amount of music composed contemporarily (for example Steve Reich) is based on the pentatonic scale. Obviously each age has its own characteristics, but I don’t feel that things composed today are that much distant from the music played thousand years ago.

Besides it’s still about the same thing - to live an experience, in a place where people gather together, some of them play, some of them listen. Ritual of transgression, katharsis, entering the state o meditation. At least that’s what it is about for me.

B.A.: The Light, Undivided, Hera – those are your most active bands, what other projects areyou currently a part of?

W.Z.: The Light will play with Jim Baker on piano. That’s a new situation for the band and I’m very excited about that. I’amplanning to create another band with Klaus Kugel. We don’t have clear idea for the line up yet but it probably will be aquartet. In addition we have big plans for Undivided, next cd will be as well be made with an expanded band, but it’stoo early to give any details.

Projects existing today are enough for me. I can dedicate myself to a different aspect of what interests me in music in each of those. Undivided, Hera, The Light, these are the bands I’m really working with on a regular basis, especiallyHera, since we all live in Warsaw is a true working band. But Undivided, The Light are also units that I want to continueon working with and look for a new musical areas.

Additionally I play in Ken Vandermark’s orchestra Resonance, in Reed Trio, in Mikolaj Trzaska's clarinet quartetIRCHA and those are incredible inspiring experiences for me. We’re playing with Michael Zerang as a duo more often now. All that makes a fair number of projects.

B.A.: What do You think about polish scene at this point?

W.Z.: I think it's really strong. The best proof is that there’s so many people to play with. A lot of interesting bands, many new faces, people introducing new and interesting things. Beside, at this point everything is mixed. Almost the entire polish scene collaborates with the international one.

There’s this incredible bridge between Poland and Chicago, created by few organizers of cultural life - Marek Winiarski, Wojtek Juszczak, Wawrzyn Makinia. Only in Warsaw there’s a plenty of creative musicians.
(note: Marek Winiarski - Not Two records, artistic director of Autumn Jazz Festivalin Krakow, Wojtek Juszczak - the director of Made in Chicago festival in Poznan, Wawrzyn Makinia - Multikulti label)

B.A.: Is there anyone in particular who you'd want to play with?

W.Z.: I definitely would want to play with native musicians from different root cultures, with musicians from Arab Africa, black Africa, with Hindimusicians, especially from the north India. I’m constantly planning to go there but it hasn’t been easy to plan this trip (laugh). My dream is toplay as much as possible with native representatives of various cultures.

When it comes to let say western scene musicians, I work with so many artists that the possibility of doing something with new musicians terrifies me a bit.

Still, obviously, I’m overy opened for any cooperation with possibly large number of people. I’d want the bands I'm currently leading would have more possibilities to perform, so I could work more with the ones I’m already working with.

B.A.: Being ahead of Your cooperation plans with root culture musicians, you reach for traditional ethnic instruments on stage like trombita, fujara, an entirearsenal...

W.Z.: It’s true, ethnic instruments appear often in my performances. They’re so simple that you can’t really play anything too freaky, you have to dosomething concrete, substantial. I feel it shortens the distance between the musician and the audience. By playing on those instruments I learn a lot, even when it comes to playing the clarinet. Through sounds, I search for a direct contact with people, those ethnic instruments help me do that.

B.A.: Then I wish you all the success in doing that, and that You'd realise Your plans and could enjoy the trip to India. Thank You very much for thisconversation.

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