For the jazz-listening public, even the cognoscenti, when European improvisers and European labels come up in conversation, there are a central few countries that appear as the only beacons in European jazzEngland, France, Holland (via ICP) and Germany (and possibly Italy to some small, Gaslini-an degree). Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark get very little mention, and one can almost forget about the former Eastern Bloc countries. To be sure, Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic all have a small but vigorous scene of improvisers and a number of labels to record themthe storied Czech label Supraphon and Muza and Poljazz in Poland released a number of significant titles in the '70s and '80s by artists like Slide Hampton, Jiri Stivin, Jemeel Moondoc, Tomasz Stanko (a trumpeter who records for ECM and was on Manfred Schoof's seminal European Echoes) and Krzysztof Komeda. Currently, one of the most rapidly growing and exceedingly refined Polish labels is Marek Winiarski's Not Two Records.
Founded in 1998, Not Two was the outgrowth of an interest in jazz that started in the '60s for Winiarski. A metallurgist by education, Winiarski began to see jazz concerts in Warsaw at the famed Jazz Jamboree Festival, one of the principal jazz festivals in Europe: "the only chance to listen to American big names was late October every year when the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree Festival was held. We used to go to Warsaw every year [booking tickets some nine months earlier!] and were really privileged to meet Mingus, Monk, Dizzy, Gil Evans, Miles, Sonny Rollins and others." An avid collector, Winiarski traveled to London to buy American jazz records, all the while with a growing interest in supporting the Polish jazz scene in his own fashion: "In 1982 I started a [jazz] record shop, but closed it in 2002. Meanwhile in 1990 I founded [with a friend] a jazz label called GOWI Recordswe were the first jazz label releasing CDs in this country." GOWI's most successful release was a Lester Bowie CD with Polish jazz group Milosc entitled Not Two (1994), and as Winiarski decided to split and curate his own program of recordings in the late '90s, Not Two was the logical point at which to start: as Winiarski likes to think of it, an homage to past successes as well as a look forward to a singular future.
Now more notable (in the West, anyway) for its avant-garde releases, Not Two began by releasing straight-ahead sessions by local musicians, but as Winiarski's personal interest began to encompass up-and-coming and established "free" musicians, the label's focus shifted to reflect such an open aesthetic. Since around 2002, Not Two have recorded almost exclusively vanguard musicians, and a significant number of visiting musicians from the United States and Western Europe. Caught on tour, a host of American reed players have graced Not Two's release scheduleWiniarski's preference is, of course, for the immediacy of improvisation in a live context, and such settings frequently match foreign musicians with local players. Saxophonists David Murray, Ken Vandermark, Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus' Cosmosomatics, Daniel Carter's Chinatown and the first new album of material from Revolutionary Ensemble bassist Sirone since 1981's Sirone Live (Serious Music) are just a few of the titles recently released by Not Two.
Ken Vandermark is especially significant, since Not Two is preparing both a trio CD with Poland's busy and varied rhythm section of brothers bassist Marcin Oles and drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles (who appear to be Not Two's house rhythm section, like Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker or Henry Grimes and Tom Price), and a 12-disc box set of the Vandermark Five live in Poland. This latter project, slated to be released soon, is Not Two's most significant project to date. Winiarski is also planning new releases by Joe McPhee and Joe Giardullo (with the brothers Oles), Tony Malaby and William Parker and also further recordings with the Cosmosamatics are in preparation.
One of the most striking things about the releases on Not Two of the past two years is the fact that they now come packaged in lavish five-inch gatefold cardboard sleeves, laminated and pasted together with crisp and often rather abstract graphics. These are some of the most striking and creative CD jackets this writer has seen in a whileinspired, Winiarski says, by Japanese CD covers, but with a clarity and presence all their own. And as for a philosophy beyond the stylishly forward packaging, Winiarski puts it this way: "my philosophy is very simpleI want to release music that I really like, even if I know from the very beginning that I lose money. I feel that especially important is mixing of musicians from various countries and traditionsthere is always a chance to get great results. The only thing I do not understand in 21st century music is all these electronics and DJsit is not my world...maybe I'm too old for that."