Last year, Polish clarinet quintet Ircha's debut album "Lark Uprising" was a contender for the "Happy New Ears Award" 2011. There might have been some confusion about the exact album and the exact year, but now that I have heard the band's sophomore album, now a quartet, I think this one is even better.
The clarinet quartet is Mikołaj Trzaska on bass clarinet and Bb metal clarinets, Michał Górczyński on Bb and bass clarinets, Paweł Szamburski on Bb and bass clarinets, and Wacław Zimpel on alt, Bb, bass clarinets and tarogato.
The album consists of sixteen improvised pieces, mostly short with a few exceptions. Trzaska has this unique capacity to create situational music, as the miniature soundtrack for a movie scene, much in the same way that you can listen to the music of Evan Lurie. Each piece has a precise character, sometimes fun, sometimes stressful, sometimes sad, sometimes fast and nervous, clearly defined with the first notes, kick-starting the four men to meet on an imaginary stage and start their dialogue.
Like in a good movie scene or theater play, it is all about the interaction of people, communicating, disagreeing, agreeing, chosing sides, building tension, releasing tension. Only a few tracks are long enough for real expansion and the development of a plot, with the title piece a clear winner, beautiful, slow and sad, with one clarinet taking the lead against a background of a warm-toned sonic tapestry. The two other long tracks "Upper Trias Caspian Fugue" and "Dream Analyzer" have the same emotional quality. "Tender Dictator" combines both approaches.
The playing is absolutely superb and the moods shift between the very humane and down-to-earth situational with more compelling sensitive developments.
This is great stuff, by great musicians, but the overall coherence of the approach and musical vision is possibly the album's most discerning quality.