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What Goes Around: Zimpel/Ziołek's Zimpel/Ziołek Reviewed
Tristan Bath , October 12th, 2017 07:36

Wacław Zimpel and Kuba Ziołek, two of Poland's finest underground musicians, create an extraordinary space where jazz and folk collide.

When two of the Polish underground’s leading lights crossed paths, the decision to make music together seems, unsurprisingly, to have been an easy one. "In December of 2015 I witnessed Wacław perform a solo set in Alchemia club in Kraków," says Kuba Ziołek (aka Stara Rzeka) of first meeting Mr Zimpel. "After his concert we discussed the possibilities of working together on some music and not much later we met at the rehearsals, followed by first live gigs under the Zimpel/Ziołek moniker." Neither artist has a tendency to shy away from collaboration. It comes with their respective territories, Zimpel’s being related to jazz, where he and his reeds have headed up several trios, quartets, and larger groups. Ziołek’s similarly supplemented his Stara Rzeka project by playing in various other underground bands - including a supergroup of sorts, Innercity Ensemble. But this coming together of Kuba Ziołek and Wacław Zimpel somehow seems like the most fatalistic and organic meetup in either discography. Their two paths don’t simply cross on Zimpel/Ziołek - they merge.

Zimpel and Ziołek are two one-man music machines representing two core facets of modern experimentalism, Polish or otherwise. Zimpel’s solo work has married his interest in various traditional musics (from Laos, India and elsewhere) with the pointillistic work of 20th century American minimalists (particularly less well-known NYC clarinetist and gamelan obsessive Daniel Goode). He’s typically very prolific too: last year he debuted his improvising trio LAM on record, having released his solo opus Lines only a few months prior. Both 2016 projects featured overlapping organ repetitions akin to a Reichian economics of melody, using repeated melodic lines in rhythms that reconfigure and re-tessellate themselves like jiggling Koyaaanasqatsi snippets, all the while leaving fertile ground for Zimpel’s bruised clarinet moan to dance on overhead.

Ziołek’s guitar-born and far folkier soundworld is more contemplative, but sweeping repetition plays just as key a role as it does in Zimpel’s jazz minimalism. Ziołek’s Stara Rzeka project can at times resemble the longform folk songs of Roy Harper, extrapolated into teetering psychedelic epics with just as much fingerpickin’ virtuosity and mystical lyricism, and plenty of reverb, jangling percussion, and the odd divergent passage of noisy black metal squall.

Where the two sounds of Zimpel and Ziołek end up meeting actually sounds something like Mike Oldfield in his 70s heyday. The four tracks on Zimpel/Ziołek are mostly long, breaking the ten minute mark, segueing between sections of multitracked acoustic guitars and a bobbing ocean of interlocked organ notes, interspersed with Zimpel’s clarinets and the odd bit of drum programming. Thirteen-minute opener ‘Memory Dome’ begins with a section of layered 12-string acoustic strums and plucks, almost baroque in its lush and symphonic emotional sweep. It's close in timbre to (though far less ruminant than) Mike Oldfield’s rurally themed 1974 album suite Hergest Ridge, named after the hill on the English-Welsh border. ‘Memory Dome’ would certainly make a fabulous soundtrack for that hilltop stroll. In similarly Oldfield-esque fashion, those multitracked melodies on keys and plucked strings are repeated and elongated, developing into glistening loops that segue into myriad breakdowns and reprisals. Ziołek’s guitar solo at the finale of ‘Wrens’ even sounds a bit like the English prog legend’s signature overdriven guitar sound, although more resonant and cosmic than cosy or Celtic.

The relationship between and folk music and modern minimalism isn’t as underdeveloped as one might think. At their simplest level, most folk musics rely on repetition - from sub-Saharan African drumming and Javanese gamelan to dozen-verse English folk ballads and 12-bar blues - and if Zimpel and Ziołek do anything it’s sew strands of myriad folks into pulsing Reichian soundscapes. "Both of us were keen on repetitive structures," says Zimpel. "And this process of defining a common musical ground evolved in a very organic way."

Besides minimalism and folk, that word ‘organic’ is pretty unignorable listening to Zimpel/Ziołek. A sense of the natural and rural has dominated several of both Zimpel and Ziołek’s previous recordings, the former evoking babbling brooks and Japanese stone gardens, the latter rambling through mountains below dark clouds. Musically, the forces of nature manifest themselves on Zimpel/Ziołek through a sort of organic, sequiturial logic, snaking from one moment to the next like a vine clambering up the side of a house. Several of the arpeggios and looped phrases the duo use are almost childishly simple, even if they’re then rearranged and deployed with increasing rhythmic complexity. It brings to mind the mathematical logic visible throughout the natural world - the Fibonacci sequence in a tree’s branches, the fractals in a fern, the symmetry of a snowflake. And then there’s Ziołek’s elliptical English language lyrics on three of the four tracks (closer ‘Fourth Molar’ is instrumental), often evoking natural imagery. "Under aspen tree / We will vibrate / Wiping out the birds" he sings on ‘Wrens’, painting a clearly woody scene. The meaning is supposedly bunk though, and the shape and sound of the words as the artist explains, were his only focus: "I decided to paint some abstract pictures with the lyric," he says. "There's no hidden meaning behind them. I just wanted to treat the melodics of words more or less the same as I do with other instruments, choosing specific syllables and matching them with words."

So it could just be conjecture on my part, but an organic forest-like theme is inescapable across Zimpel/Ziołek. It seems buried inside everything from Ziołek’s lyrics to the fern-like musical fractals to the animalistic squeal of Zimpel’s woodwind, even the album’s artwork featuring silhouetted tree branches drawn by Varsovian illustrator Hanna Cieślak.

Final track ‘Fourth Molar’ has Zimpel unleash his best clarinet solo on the record, hijacking the hooky pulsing lattice of organ and piano keys for a careening flight before Ziołek ushers the album to its closing fade with dabs of guitar. It’s an ultimately transcendent ten-and-a-half minute finale for a record that spends its running time melodically pondering on ideas of repetition and constant cycling. The meeting of Zimpel and Ziołek is an attempt to synthesize the repetitive heart of music into something of ascendent organic power. Propelling one another forward, they do just that.