Instant Classic, released Thurs 12 Oct.
Right under everyone’s noses, clarinetist Wacław Zimpel and guitarist Kuba Ziołek have been quietly stirring the European underground for the past decade. With many recent releases out via the tirelessly prolific indie label Instant Classic based in Kraków, the two musicians have contorted disparate styles – drone, black metal, modern classical, electronic, jazz, folk – into amorphous yet singular shapes. This latest release – aptly called Zimpel/Ziołek – marks their first collaboration, and it succeeds in synthesising everything they’ve done separately into a refined – but no less labyrinthine – whole.
The album takes a journey through the duo’s storied musical styles over the last two years, yet notably finds both musicians’ individual tastes subverted and challenged. Opener Memory Dome alone paints a pastoral portrait with idyllic clarinet and homely finger-picking in the same Robbie Basho-esque vein as Ziołek’s recent album as one half of Alameda Duo, The Luminous Guitar Craft of…. By the time its minimal phrases reach a humming zenith – clarinet now flailing wildly like some untamed creature, proving that Zimpel’s free jazz impulses are thankfully hard to shed (see also his glorious solo on closer Fourth Molar) – the song settles down to its foundational jig. Again, just as Zimpel and Ziołek seem ready to venture into the dense black metal overgrowth of Zamknęły się oczy ziemi (loosely translated as The Land Closed its Eyes) – a monstrous 2015 release by Ziołek’s defunct project Stara Rzeka – the song again returns to a place of relative calm.
Wrens similarly represents a whole ecosystem of overlapping motifs. Ziołek’s plaintive vocal sets an abstract lyrical scene redolent of Cocteau Twins’ colder sound-worlds. Rhythmic chirping and creaking gradually unfold into a micro-Steve Reich piano phrase. Reich sought to invest humanity in the non-stop progress of urban American infrastructures; I can’t help but read a distinctly European utopian collectivity in Zimpel and Ziołek’s album, remembering as it does the oft-forgotten fact that the characteristics of minimalism in the 20th century – repetition, polyrhythm, drone, free improvisation – are born invariably from folk and the first musics. It’s a work brimming with empathy, bolstered by its fiercely independent context and communal spirit.
It’s tempting to read a pro-EU message into this album, but that perhaps wouldn’t be too interesting a review. Get Zimpel/Ziołek simply because it’s yet another very, very good release from musicians (and a label) continuing to outdo themselves.