Oles Brothers' Eastern Bloc Party
Marcin Oles featuring Chris Speed, Simon Nabatov and Bartlomiej Brat Oles
Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles featuring Erik Friedlander, Michael Rabinowitz, and Emmanuelle Somer
Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles featuring Theo Jörgensmann
The graphic design studio Fenommedia has formed a record label to showcase Polish jazz and improvised music. These three albums focus on the creative endeavors of two brothers, drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles and bassist Marcin Oles. Given Fenommedia's foundation in graphics, it comes as little surprise that the packaging for each disc possesses a distinctive, elegant aesthetic. One question arises, however: have the performers invested the music with the same care, craftsmanship and attention to detail?
The answer is yes. The Oles brothers are accomplished musicians, well-regarded in their native Poland, and Walk Songs, Chamber Quintet and Directions share the brothers' willingness to explore a vast musical terrain without sacrificing accessibility.
Released under Marcin Oles' name, Walk Songs is the most outwardly conventional of the three albums, providing an ideal starting point for the average listener. This isn't to suggest that the disc, which also features Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and Simon Nabatov on piano, skimps on innovation. Speed is an assured improviser, unafraid to take risks that pay off bigtime. Russian pianist Nabatov arguably steals the show, contributing consistently remarkable solos that engage the mind and rouse the spirit.
According to the liner notes, the process of recording Walk Songs was protracted. This led to mounting levels of impatience for bandleader Marcin Oles, who channeled his frustrations into the music. The outcome is an album that's initially carefree and exuberant, but which takes on an increasingly darker edge as it progresses. As the title suggests, the disc represents a leisurely strollbut one that takes an unexpected detour into the seamier part of town.
Inspired to assemble a contemporary chamber group after listening to Benjamin Britten's Phantasy for oboe and string trio, the Oles brothers recruited Emmanuelle Somer on oboe and English horn, Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon, and Erik Friedlander on cello. The swinging "Enigma" makes a convincing case for Rabinowitz as a consummate jazz bassoonist; Somer's equally notable improvisations are more firmly rooted in classical tradition.
Friedlander is given plentiful opportunity to demonstrate his talent, and on tracks like the exquisite "Rien Que Nous Deux," his cello blends seamlessly with Marcin's arco bass. Bartlomiej Brat's drumwork underpins the dynamic range of the ensemble, enhancing the contrast between the music's frantic whirligigs and its softer passages. Sidestepping the contrivances of much so-called chamber jazz, Chamber Quintet is conceptually not far removed from Uncle Meat-era Frank Zappa.
The third album, Directions, is perhaps the true marvel of the bunch. While there's no shortage of grooves or infectious ostinatos, the CD is less inclined toward either the familiar forms of Walk Songs or the overt immediacy of Chamber Quintet. Instead the music focuses on the adventurous interaction between the Oles brothers and clarinetist Theo Jörgensmann. The brothers' highly evolved sonic awareness lays the groundwork for Jörgensmann's quirky, Dolphy-flavored melodicism, and the improvisation runs the gamut from manic energy ("January 5") to serene beauty ("Alpha-Beta-Blanka").
To the question of where jazz might be headed next, Fenommedia has provided three compelling answers. Marcin and Bartlomiej Brat Oles have not yet received due recognition outside of Eastern Europe, but judging by the excellence of these recordings, it's only a matter of time before they gain the worldwide recognition they deserve.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Evil's Eyes; Green Water; In Progress; Wise Guy; Q Square; Walk Song I; Walk Song II; Long Day; Seven Days.
Personnel: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone; Simon Nabatov: piano; Marcin Oles: double bass; Bartlomiej Brat Oles: drums.
Tracks: Abyss; Galileo; Eternity; Enigma; Rien Que Nous Deux; Reflection; Horror Vacui; Phoenix; Desert Walk; Nostalgia; Source.
Personnel: Emmanuelle Somer: oboe, English horn; Michael Rabinowitz: bassoon; Erik Friedlander: cello; Marcin Oles: double bass; Bartlomiej Brat Oles: drums.
Tracks: Alpha-Beta-Blanka; Per Rata; January 5; Giuffree; Aesthetic Direction; Zen DeTractorist; Parbat; Byway; Voices Of The Trees.
Personnel: Theo Jörgensmann: Bb Bassett clarinet; Marcin Oles: double bass; Bartlomiej Brat Oles: drums.