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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kolega Doriana - s/t (s/r, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Kolega Doriana are a Polish ensemble consisting of only three members: Matylda Gerber on saxophone, Maurycy Wilczkiewicz on guitar, and Jan Krukowski on percussion. This self-titled album is seemingly their first, and it definitely gets the group off to a good start.

The first piece is the lengthiest and, without a doubt, the most minimalistic. Its title, “Podobny Do Nocy,” translates to “night-like,” or “similar to the night,” and it indeed carries a nocturnal air of trepidation. Opening with soft drones, it is soon augmented by processed streams of guitar and muted susurrations from Matylda Gerber’s saxophone. The changes that unfold over the track’s fifteen minutes are not structural, but textural; the guitar’s jarring distortions become more opaque, and the electronic drones occasionally shift into slightly different shapes and rhythms. Despite the piece’s unvarying direction, it never loses steam or becomes tedious. Listening to it is akin to watching the perpetual flow of traffic on a city’s grid, or the incessant flux of ants on dirt - the tiny modifications and transmutations serve to remind you that, yes, these are the movements of living, breathing creatures.

The next track, “Leventhal,” opens with Jan Krukowski’s undulating drums - coming from the relative staticity of the previous piece, it’s quite startling. Despite this welcome addition of percussion, “Leventhal” shares many similarities to the track that comes before it: once again, it develops in a decidedly minimalistic fashion, with the primary alterations being tonal. Gerber’s saxophone and Wilczkiewicz’s guitar rise and recede in regular pulses, creating an atmosphere of anxious expectation that is never fully resolved.

“3,” the next piece, provides the first big surprise of the album: after a brief introduction from Maurycy Wilczkiewicz’s guitar, Gerber comes in with a frenzied flood of notes on her sax. She has lain largely dormant for the last twenty minutes, with her instrument adding splashes of color and texture. Here, she lets loose, lending a mad urgency to the proceedings. If the prior two pieces are distinguished by their geometric tidiness, “3” is like a barrage of wild fractals.

“1” opens with resonant chimes from Jan Krukowski, soon followed by hesitant sputters from Wilczkiewicz and airy gurgles from Gerber. As the piece develops, the percussion picks up and the guitar’s spasms become tangled and twisted. The final piece is called “138,” and it finds the return of the electronic drone from the first track. The percussion rolls and tumbles, Wilczkiewicz provides a reliable motif on the guitar, and Gerber produces an passionate stream of notes that gets steadily more unrestrained. Before you know it, the instruments drop out and the album is finished - much too soon, I’m afraid.

This first album from Kolega Doriana is a genuine treat, and it offers lots of rewards to the patient listener. Yes, there are minimal drones here, but they are never tiresome; in fact, I found myself wishing that they would go on longer. The group has a great deal of mastery over tension, release, and sonic development, and this fifty-minute recording feels much shorter because of it. Highly recommended!