CD review: Nina De Heney, Sławek Janicki – Bass To Bass 2020: Video, CD cover

More than a quarter of a century ago Stefan Kisielewski wrote that “devoting one’s life to creative work treated with ardent intentness as the most important matter, as an explanation and meaning of existence does not happen often nowadays”.

This sentence of Kisiel reminded me of when I first heard Sławek Janicki’s album “Favorite Duets” a year ago. The music of the owner of Mózg club, a character, who indisputably devoted his life to creative work and even devoted it on behalf of other musicians by organising over a few decades festivals and cyclical concerts under the name Muzyka z Mózgu and master presentations SuperSam +1, just to mention the most important ones that have been happening over the past few years.

“Favorite Duets” captures moments of co-operation with musicians such as Peter Brötzmann, David Moss, Jerzy Mazzoll, Sainkho Namtchylak that are merely a kind of a showcase, a good start, an introduction… to Sławek Janicki’s music – an improviser, a band musician, who until now has been hidden in various ensembles (such as Trytony or Arhythmic Perfection) or sunken in a multitude of undertaken festival challenges.

“Bass and Bass” album provides an opportunity to focus the ear on Sławek Janicki’s instrument playing. Material on the album, a duet with Nina de Heney, was recorded at Mózg on November 29, 2019.

I remember this concert was a unique event. Improvised concerts are often characterised by the way of organising sound that is ancillary to drawing or capturing, the attention of the audience since the very beginning so the concert can even happen. Going further does not make it easier because the connection has to be maintained thanks to a solo or a review of techniques. Sometimes it is striking and effective, especially during a concert but it does not really work on an album. “Bass to Bass” session has the convention of a concert but the conditions are more domestic and sterile and that is a good thing for this material.

The musicians maintain contact with the audience, talk with the listeners between tracks. Everything is alive, just like the music on “Bass to Bass”. From the first moment we can hear that the performers feel great in this cosy atmosphere.

Often during an occasion like this, when two musicians meet, be it double bass players, drummers or trombonists, we are dealing with a different combination of a small ensemble. Inevitably, some questions pop in our heads: what is this album like in comparison to other ones like this, eg. double bass duets, chamber ensembles, solo recitals. Names that automatically come to mind are: Peter Kowald, Barry Guy, Barre Phillips, Maarten Altena. Duo De Heney/Janicki leaves us doubtless – we are dealing with something in the form of a tribute to or something equally burdened with that tradition.

“Bass to Bass” is a thoroughly contemporary album. Despite the appearance of echoes, performance techniques or associations with masters of the instrument I mentioned above, this album is a rather modern version of improvised music in a club combined with curator’s guided sound tour. Although that might be just my association with Sławek Janicki in his role of a festival creator, who talks through sounds rather than words. The effect is quite unorthodox, inapparent. The double basses glide and maunder, just like on Morton Feldman’s or Mike Majkowski’s albums, they play extended tremolos and long sounds with bows and then they go on to imitate a chattering sequencer or a laptop, reminding of an echo of electronic music concert.

In other words, what we have here is music that is more “compact” and tight, formally concise rather than exaggerated like Barry Philips’s solo albums for ECM. At the same time, it is very straightforward, which will surely gather many listeners that have not previously been familiar with the genre of free improvisation or Peter Kowald’s sound attack.

I think that the ambiguity and unpredictability combined with very good concert performance and high quality recording together are a great reason to grab the album of this duo. It is a solid foundation for further story that heard again after a few months since its premiere reveals a multitude of details missed during the first hearing. I think that the material did not require a lot of studio work, editing or shortening, which does not happen often in this genre, and that surely makes me return eagerly to these recordings and that unforgettable session.

1. First Touch 25:58
2. Final Movement 8:14

Nina De Heney – double bass
Sławek Janicki – double bass

BASS TO BASS | Nina de Heney & Sławek Janicki | MUZYKA Z MÓZGU

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