Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Warsaw Village Band is cookin' up some new tunes for us

Ooo-kay...guess I'm not the only one who's been phoning it in during the holiday season...but really, sorry about that. I 'm ready to step back up and give you the full length, well researched and over-illustrated Mama E Dub type posts you so richly deserve, OK?

So I downloaded the new Warsaw Village Band disc, Infinity, a few weeks ago, as well as their disc of remixes from 2005's Uprooting with the likely enough title, Upmixing. Yep, too impatient to wait for the U.S. release. They've been sifting around on my pod and my head the last little while, only the sounds, the feel, because of course, there is not a booklet!! I don' t know who the guest performers are, who produced what, who wrote what tunes fer cryin' out loud and a combination of business, life and being stubborn kept me from looking up such info online until today. Maybe to form my own impressions without reading what they want me to think first??

First thought in the ear buds was, "Wow, nice production values!" So clean, almost too clean? Gone are most of the big booming drums, leaving a lot of layers of vocals and the various fiddles, cello and dulcimer type instruments they use. Which is great, if you like that, and in the right mood, I do. But then I had to wonder, would this sound have got them noticed the way the big drums and the guest trumpet did on 2002's People's Spring? The whole thing sounds much more within one range, or less varied or more cohesive or something.

Being a fan of the Nordic roots type stuff, of course the tune that jumped out first was "Polska from Polska," which asks me "Which old Hedningarna tune is this?" every time I hear it. I still can't quite put my finger on it...something from Tra or Hippjokk, I decided. So then I listen to those songs. Hmmm....... somewhere between "Höglorfen" and that middle theme about a minute into "Dufwa (efter Anders Petter Dufwa)" from Hippjokk. Hmmm, a Google on that guy's name is getting me nowhere fast. All the references are to this tune on this album. Who was this old Swede? At least I have a physical cd to which I can run and check the liner notes now. Ok, Dufwa was from southern Sweden, don't know when, but the tune is a reel, not a polska. Huh. [For those not familiar with the classic Tra here is actually a pretty great rave review on, of all place. Scroll way down to where it says "most helpful customer reviews."]

Always loved that Hippjokk album artwork!

Anyway, what did I learn when I went to WVB's label's site and read up on what they were thinking when they made this disc? Um yeah, no wonder it sounds so cohesive. It's not a bunch of old Polish folk songs; while most of the lyrics are trad, the music is newly written material by two members of the band, fiddler Wojtok Krzak (aka "the guy with the dreads") and Maja Kleszcz (the petite cellist with the really low voice.) The year off the band took recently (their show at the Cedar a couple of years back in May was their last U.S. show) produced all this songwriting and the little blonde kid in these fun new band photos. In recent interviews, Krzak talks about the vastness as well as the intimacy of parenthood, and how that led to the album title Infinity. was in fact the birth of a little human being that became the direct inspiration and cause for the creation of this album. In such situations, certain moments come when, lying beside the child, you observe its breathing, and you start to think about the countless, nameless generations that preceded us. You imagine those for whom we ourselves are going to be just an anonymous past without a face. After all, we are all born in a particular place and time, and shaped by culture of our ancestors. We live in big cities, seek our place on earth, lose old gods and find new ones, people, shelters, pictures, so that later we can hand them down to our children, who are born in a particular place and time, seek their place on earth, lose old gods and find new ones, people, shelters, pictures, so that later.. You begin feeling it clearly the moment you call others into being. No matter whether you live in Japan, the US, England, Germany or Poland – behind you stand the same generations, which like the rings of a tree, have accumulated their every trace in music, art, language – in a word – CULTURE. You emerge from it, enrich it and then pass it on. Ad infinitum.

Can I just say here that I really get a kick out of the art direction for their photos. The vivid portraits for Uprooting were a lot of fun, too.

So that polska? Newly written as well and Krzak learned to play a little nickelharpa for that one. That tune's journey home from Sweden is probably one of the shorter ones taken on the new release. "Is Anybody in There?" is their version of a field holler, with three part harmonies over a swingy percussion groove. They call "Circle No. 1" a Slavic raga, celebrating the days when the Polish empire extended a lot further east (not quite to India, though...but who do you think kicked the Ottomans out of Austria at the Battle of Vienna in 1683? The Polish! ) and the likely origin of the suka, that wide necked fiddle that is played with the fingernails, handled in WVB since the early days by Sylwia Swiatkowska. Let's just not go with the Russian definition of the word suka, [СУКА] OK?

Wow, I do digress, don't I? Thoughts about the tune "1.5h" draw in some bigger issues, too. Know much about the history of the Jews in Poland and what happened there during WWII? Wonder why Jewish history and klezmer is huge in Poland right now although Jews are a miniscule minority nowadays? Very complex issues, here is a tiny piece of explanation. Anyway, this tune features "... the “ghostly voice of Krakow,” as Krzak puts it, singer and violist Tomek Kukurba of the popular klezmer-inspired trio Kroke evokes a lost world on “1.5 Hours,” drawing on Jewish, Middle Eastern, and his own unique approach to Polish music."

So in another way, Infinity is all over the place. The tunes are differentiating for me, and growing on me. There is some very nice stuff here, and I mean that as high praise.

And you know, I just like these pagan-lovin' kids from Warsaw, ever since the first time "Do Ciebie Kasiuniu" from People's Spring came galloping across the steppes into my headphones 5 or 6 years ago. I appreciate the bio-techno thing, I agree with what they're trying to do... so I would always be one to give their new stuff a listen.

And if you don't believe me, here are a couple of other reviews, from Songlines (need to scroll down a bit to it) and the Guardian. Sorry, I can't help myself, here is a simple B&W vid from the People's Spring days, and I like the energy here. Yah!

Cranes" from People's Spring (2002)

Upmixing is more uneven, as in a lot of Euro-reggae. Reggae remixes were what the band requested when they put out the call to djs but let's just say some of it works and some ... not so much. Here's one of what I call the Euro-reggae tunes, but I do kinda like the big plants that grow from his seeds later in the video. Watch for the various band members peeking through the magic frame near the end! The tune is called "Spiritual Revival" remixed by Studio AS One and it samples "Let's Play, Musicians."

Videos aside, two tracks are standing out for me at this point.

The British horns plus beats brothers Love Grocer do the best reggae style mix; their take on "Waiting at the Front of the Gates" is smooth and stylin'...the hammered dulcimer sounds right at home with the trombone.

For a less easily categorized mix, the standout piece is the Yezza remix of "Grey Horse." The vocals are sliced and diced over a brooding synth bass line, with bits of the fiddle lines and original percussion worked back in with a very light hand. Hypnotic, but way more agressive than trance. I have looked but cannot find out more about who this Yezza is! The only Yezza I can come up with is a Yorkshire hip hop mc who goes by "Yezza." His stuff does not to these ears, anyway, sound like the production happening on this tune. Plus his site says nothing about him doing any remixes. So that's what I get for being impatient.

This instant gratification of the download vs the waiting six months for the U.S. release and wanting all the information of the liner notes and booklet thing is hard for me!