[28 April 2005]
When I first received the Warsaw Village Band’s new CD Uprooting, I immediately placed it into my CD player, eager to hear what these young and innovative musicians from Poland were doing now. I had loved their first two recordings and was prepared to love this one.
I must admit, though, I was disconcerted by the first two tracks. I expected much better of them. “Roots: Joseph Lipinski” sounds like 18 seconds of very bad Sami joiking. This track segues naturally into “In the Forest” which has a wonderful foreground of the usual very gutsy music and singing that I associate with this band; but the joiking and electronic sounds in the background resemble the soundtrack to a Japanese anime, where everyone is fighting and utilizing some kind of vigorous martial arts. This could work, but it doesn’t here. I cannot imagine why there is a need to add to great musicianship and singing these techno devices simply for the purpose of making the sound “modern” and one that supposedly appeals to youthful taste. They really serve no purpose and are not particularly original ideas. Call me an old fogey if you like, but I for one was much relieved when those two tracks ended. Nonetheless, I applaud them for their courage to try new things with ancient material.
For me, track three is when the recording really starts. We are allowed to walk into a crowded room, the “cellar full of noise” that Petula Clark once sang about; only this cellar is in Poland and is filled with big drums, fiddles, trumpets, and women singing in strong vibrant voices—sit down or stand by the bar and be assaulted with pure energy. A friend who taught Bulgarian singing said once, “When you sing this music, don’t try to make it pretty.” Indeed, eastern European vocals aren’t always pretty, but they are almost always “alive” with intensity and strength. The three women singers in the Warsaw Village Band (Sylwia Swiatkowska, Maja Kleszcz, and Magdalena Sobczak) are no exception. They are fantastic singers, as well as musicians. They leave no doubt as to who is in charge. Theirs is hard, “shoot from the hip”, flat out gutsy singing.
While the Warsaw Village Band’s first CD’s, Hopsasa and People’s Spring, mainly featured them playing traditional songs in a manner they call “hard-core folk”, Uprooting takes their brash and youthful sound a step further. They add to this mix some jazz and blues elements in their singing and arrangements on such tunes as “Lament”, sung solo and a capella by the smoky voiced Maja Kleszcz. This Billie Holiday-ish blues/jazz tune segues into “I’ve Slayed the Rye”, which has an almost frantic blend of strings (cello and two violins), with Piotr Glinski’s drum and the extraordinarily strong vocals of Magdalena Sobczak.
I find the group is at their very best when they pare the sound down to basic elements of voice, strings, and one or two instruments. Here, they really shine with talent and originality. My favorite track on this recording is the last one (not that many of them wouldn’t qualify as “one of my favorite tracks”). “Fishie” is a symbolic song of love and eroticism. The elements are common in folklore: a young girl running from an amorous man tells him she will become a fish to escape him, and he says he will catch her in his nets, etc. The song combines the women’s voices, the plucked strings of their violins and cellos, and just pole cymbals for percussion.
“When Johnny Went to Fight in the War” is the only non-traditional song on the album and was composed by Wojtek Krzask, one of the violinists in the group. Surprisingly, he is not listed in the personnel for this tune. It is a protest song about all wars and is done in a rather jazzy way, but mixing elements of “live scratching” by FeelX. This one works for me; perhaps because of the nature of their arrangement for it, where the modern elements don’t feel superfluous.
The Warsaw Village Band continues to surprise with their exuberant, youthful talent and creative “chutzpah”.