The Polish clarinetist and composer Waclaw Zimpel has played in numerous bands over the years, including, most recently, his own Waclaw Zimpel Quartet, and the Waclaw Zimpel To Tu Orchestra, with which he released the notable albums Stone Fog (2013) and Nature Moves (2014) respectively, on the excellent jazz label For Tune. Lines is his first solo effort.
“What I had in mind was mostly polyphonic music but I couldn’t see a point in working on this with other players,” says Zimpel. “First of all, I wanted to perform most of the melodic lines on clarinets. I had a very precise vision of how those lines should be composed and it felt very natural to perform all of them by myself. Secondly, this album is mostly written not improvised so I had no problem recording track after track feeling that some of live-performance spontaneity is being lost,” he adds.
Zimpel is something of a scholar. Over the years he’s delved into the musical traditions of India, Japan, and Morocco and researched the roots of improvisation from liturgical music to African trance. With Lines, the Polish clarinetist constructs an intricate sonic framework of parallel chords that attain a ritualistic effect by virtue of their varying configuration. He explores the depths of sound by unhinging any linearity in time that might carry a narrative intention in order to unveil new projections of aural space. Different musical environments are suggested, although the opening track, Alupa – Pappa, locates the album firmly in the Minimalist camp and sets the tone.
“I think that you can sense this characteristic approach to space and sound is audible on all compositions, despite the fact that they differ between themselves. What might be the main common denominator is the inspiration I drew from the pioneers of American minimalism, like La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Some parts of ‘Lines’ are in a way a paraphrasis of their formal ideas from the 60’s and 70’s. I also believe that ‘Deo Gratias’, being a Renaissance canon in its own way, also fits this concept as a prophecy of minimalism composed 500 years earlier,” explains Waclaw.
Notwithstanding the subtly shifting patterns of the album, it would be misleading to think, that Lines is just a modern take on Minimalism, even if the debt to Reich, Riley & co is undeniable, as the title track testifies. Moreover, the philological approach is guaranteed by the use of Hammond organ and fender Rhodes, which appear elsewhere in the album. Zimpel’s take, though, is wider in scope. As he mentions, with Deo Gratias he also looks back at the work of the Flemish 15th century singer, choirmaster, and composer Johannes Ockeghem. Zimpel mimics the density of events in Ockeghem’s polyphonic music, often giving each new voice he introduces throughout the album, something different to say about any melodic or rhythmic idea proposed by another. This is achieved in a remarkably unlabored and seemingly effortless manner. The emphasis is always on the emotional undercurrent that seeps through loops and tones. The organic quality of the sound is mesmerizing in its flow. The rhythmic spell is only eventually broken midway through the closing track Tak Picture, only to resurface briefly before finally grinding to a halt.
Lines is out on Instant Classics on February 5, 2016
A beautiful black and white video of Waclaw Zimpel performing lines can be seen here