Joe McPhee - alt clarinet
Mikolaj Trzaska - alt & bass clarinet
Waclaw Zimpel - bass clarinet, clarinet, tarogato
Pawel Szamburski - clarinet, bass clarinet
Michal Gorczynski - bass clarinet
Imagine a foggy night at the sea, and the sound ships sirens emerging from the silence and the darkness, five of them, calling each other out, responding to voices coming from all the directions. Finding a freindly waters, where they can exchange some personal stories, with the listening choir commenting on those all the time. They reach an agreement and start singing together (absolutely stunning and oh so peacefull harmonies in the middle of the track) and then move back and forward between the solo narration, duos and the entire choir parts, with everyone finding a role to play and never looking for a front spot. That is how this albums starts on "Ant-hill Builder".
It's amazing how majestic is the sound of the clarinet when multiplied, coming from all angles, all directions, warming up the air of this foggy night, clearing up the sky so You could see the moon shine.
"City Shephers" begins with clapping of the clarinets' keys that sound like a rain in a tropical forest. "Sleeping Deep in the Moss" brings You the sound of the ocean waves and introduces gently another so deeply harmonic duo, joined later by bass clarinet underlying it from miles away with a simple motiv, coming to a short tutti outburst of a heated debate, which that suddenly stops as if it never happened. All pieces are rich in texture and with so many layers appearing in the music, the Quintet manages to achieve a rare thing - contain a complex inner structure in a form that seems simply.
I don't mention the names on purpose (though, thanks to the fantastic stereo realisation of this recording, You could identify some parts). This is some of the most democratic playing I've heard in a while, a true conference of birds - where one has an ability to both talk and listen at the same time, finding a perfect balance in the overall sound. This is a breathtaking and a completely fresh and original experience (how many clarinet quintets have You heard so far?).
And be warned this is definitely not jazz, much more a chamber music (sometimes reminding me a bit of Philip Glass's work), with a lot of strucure, with a lot of repetitive motives appearing, whole lot of caring for the overall form of all the pieces, slowly pacing through both ensemble and solo parts, some abstract moments as those of stunning harmonic touch. The description on the digipack says : "all composition by Quintet" which make me doubt my assumptions about material being improvised, but does it really matter? All musicians are worthy of praises, masters of the clarinet, but this album is more than anything a perfect example of a whole that is bigger than a sum of its parts.
A whole that is unique and absolutely captivating, don't miss it.
ps.1 While Joe McPhee, Waclaw Zimpel and Mikolaj Trzaska should all be known to jazz maniacs all over the world (I hope so), Pawel Szamburski and Mikolaj Gorczynski have not reached this level of recognition, their playing (among various bands they play in) can be heard in Cukunft - polish group revitalizing klezmer music, You can find mine post about their concert in Krakow here.ps2. The music was recorded during Tzadik Festival in Poznan at July 17 2009, and, with clarinet being so crucial to the jewish musical culture, one could be tempted to look for klezmer influences but, in my ears, there are none really.