By Eric McDowell
Polish composer and clarinetist Wacław Zimpel is a hungry listener. Ranging time and space, his musical diet has fueled a variety of intercontinental collaborations and explorations, from his work with Carnatic music virtuosos, Saagara, to his tenure in Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble, from Music of the Yemenite Jews to his resurrection of the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen. With LAM, Zimpel returns to territory he first prospected on last February’s Lines—the world of the American Minimalists.
This time Zimpel ditches the solo/overdub approach, for his own part sticking to the usual suspects—Bb, alto, and bass clarinets; tárogató—while inviting the contributions of pianist Krzystztof Dys from the Stone Fog quartet and Slalom drummer Hubert Zemler, plus significant post-production and electronics by mooryc. While the expanded lineup may suggest a kind of blossoming from the earlier solo album, the compositions on LAM are actually older than those on Lines. Still, Zimpel’s approach is relatively consistent across both albums, emphasizing hypnotic repetition, careful layering and escalation, and effect over means—meaning when the music demands it, Zimpel will patiently play a simple figure over and over or even sit out for minutes at a time.
Adding up to a cohesive 50-minute suite, the album’s three pieces are broken into even smaller tracks, signposting structural turning points and highlighting Zimpel’s compositional approach. On the prefatory “LAM 1 (Part One),” Dys deploys slow decaying chords to set a solemn mood before shifting up into the measured ostinato around which “LAM 1 (Part Two)” is built. Only then do Zemler and Zimpel step onto the stage, the former with a throbbing mallet groove, the latter intoning gently on bass clarinet. The success of the piece hangs not on any show-stopping bravura but on mesmeric repetition and the way that subtle embellishments on the pattern surface and accumulate like overtones around a drone. It’s these nuances and the organic escalation of the music that suggests the benefits of working with live musicians over mechanical looping and studio overdubs. Yet it should also be mentioned that mooryc’s postproduction effects, though at times difficult to pinpoint, are obviously indispensible to the overall sound.
While “LAM 2” (at under 11 minutes the album’s shortest piece) resets the somber atmosphere with spare piano and plaintive clarinet, the 25-minute “LAM 3” makes the most dynamic use of Zimpel’s slow-build premise. In “LAM 3 (Part One),” interlocking polyrhythms create a dizzying spiral—an uptempo ostinato in Dys’s left hand, a drawn-out arpeggio in his right; Zemler’s endlessly cycling martial snare. Ten minutes later, with the groove tunneling deep, Zimpel launches into a searing solo that perfectly balances emotional lyricism with technical wizardry. “LAM 3 (Part Three)” and “LAM 3 (Part Four)” spend the rest of the album descending from the heights of “LAM 3 (Part Two),” first with a slightly buried piano solo and finally with a return to LAM’s opening melancholy. Sadder still is the silence that falls at the end of the album.