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Written in fRoots issue 367/368, Jan/Feb 2014

Knee-deep In Heaven

Sluchaj Uchem / Oriente DANZ106 (2013)

Wild music, as they say, from the heart of Poland. An underlying pulse in a flexible, syncopated, sometimes stretched triple time, over which floats a melodic line of theme-stating notes followed by a flurry of catch-up notes, suggestive of an adult making strides followed by a scampering child. The dance involves a couple in almost trance-like flat-footed turning, with creative punctuations of side-by-side stepping, a counter-turn or a sudden loud masculine footstamp.
     Traditional lead instruments are fiddle, or Poland’s very individual, multiple-key-row form of the accordion, over the chug of bowed open strings on a rough-hewn cello-sized basy, and the raw bang and thump of a stick-struck tambourine, or a bass drum, triangle and cymbal; the percussion doesn’t so much hold down the beat as make an impulsive, capricious-seeming running commentary on it and the melody.
     Since their last album, and given a springboard by a successful showcase at Womex 2012, the Prusinowski Trio have been taking their music and dance-leading worldwide, while continuing as energetic prime movers in the burgeoning mazurka enthusiasm in Poland. (See the feature in fR 338/339 on them and the mazurka festival that they organise in Warsaw).
     Their third CD continues to reflect the melodic and rhythmic variety of mazurek (mazurka), oberek (similar musically to mazurek, but instrumental only, whereas mazureks are usually originally songs). There’s a lot of variety here even between one mazurek and another, and in the album’s well-judged flow the band interpolates other types of song and tune, including polka, lyrical slow melodies and settings of lyrics by Rabindranath Tagore and other poets.
     Unlike in some other European traditional revivals that are more disconnected from living tradition, the band have been able to seek out and learn from living old village players and singers (one of the most influential of whom, fiddler Jan Gaca, died in August). But they’re not copyist-preservationists, they’re continuing the tradition with sympathetic bold new approaches, building on the improvisation that’s already within the tradition and using unusual combinations of traditional instruments.
     The Trio is actually a quintet: Janusz Prusinowski on fiddle, vocals, Polish accordion and hammered dulcimer; Piotr Piszczatowski on tambourine and baraban drum; Michal Zak on flute, shawm and clarinet; Szczepan Pospieszalski’s trumpet takes the melodies alongside Janusz and Michal; and Piotr Zgorzelski, who’s also the dance teacher/leader on their gigs, underpins with basy and a touch of tenor horn and double bass. The bulk of the singing is by Janusz who, without aping them, has the natural, open-throated edge to his singing that one hears from village singers. One of their key village mentors, Maria Siwiec from the Radomskie region, brings further strength to the album, singing with feisty energy dance songs that lead into the band’s instrumental versions.


© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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