Faced with any bass and drums duo, the question is always going to be: does it pass the music minus one test? It is a brave and unforgiving furrow which not too many choose to plough. Of those that do, they often stretch the parameters by using tuned percussion or additional wind instruments like William Parker and Hamid Drake in their celebrated duets, or double-up on another string instrument like Henry Grimes and Rashied Ali(Porter Records, 2008), where recitations also leaven the mix.
Citing a deep jazz sensibility, brothers Marcin and Bartlomiej Brat Oles choose to go it alone with just their bass and drums respectively on Duo, eschewing exotica bar thumb pianos and shakers on the closing "Afrik." Known for their collaborations with visiting North Americans like David Murray, Kenny Werner, and Ken Vandermark, as well as European luminaries including Theo Jorgensmann and Simon Nabatov, the brothers are one of the leading rhythm sections on the burgeoning Polish scene.
Not only do they keep to the instrumentation spare, but they also often adhere to the roles those instruments would occupy in a regular band. So B. Oles' drums regularly mark time, while M. Oles' bass carries the melodic line. It's no surprise to see that six of the ten tracks are credited to the bassist, though three stem from the drummer, with one joint effort. Both are skilled players with chops to spare, with Marcin particularly adept with his bow, but they perform without ostentatious technique. Consequently the program stands on the strengths of the compositions and the ensuing improvisations.
"Three chords" gets the proceedings off to a promising start with atmospheric tinklings and mysterious arco sweeps, before the drums kick in and the bass extemporizes, using the titular bowed motif as a recurring theme. This tactic is used again elsewhere in the program and is evidence of a strong sense of organizational structure, essential in this barebones setting. Elsewhere there are some attractive melodies as on "Betula," "White rainbow," and "Afrik," and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some of these pieces resurface in a more conventional setting.
Ultimately, though the Oles brothers conjure a cohesive sound world complete in itself, to pass the test it is one best entered perhaps a few tracks at a time.
Personnel: Marcin Oles: double-bass; Bartlomiej Brat Oles: drums.