Warsaw Village Band, Infinity (Barbes Records, 2009)

We now return to our regularly scheduled assortment of obscure music. With their albums People's Spring (2001) and Uprooting (2004), the Warsaw Village Band had already established themselves as one of the best international folk acts of the decade. The sextet of Maja Kleszcz (vocals and cello), Magdalena Sobczak-Kotnarowska (vocals and dulcimer), Sylwia Swiatkowska (vocals and fiddles), Wojtek Krzak (violin and nyckelharpa), Piotr Glinski (drums and percussion), and Maciej Szajkowski (frame drums) may root their sound in the fiddling traditions of their homeland, but there is quite a bit more to the music they make than that. They have always had an aggressive, punkish edge, for one thing. Plus, much like the Finnish band Värttinä, they incorporate folk influences from across Europe and the globe, especially styles that suit their three-part female vocal harmonies well. It's not always easy to tell which aspects of their sound are in fact Polish in origin. But the band wholeheartedly embrace the present as well, and are particularly fond of black American music in its many forms. On their brand new album Infinity, you can hear traces of hip-hop, R&B, soul, and the blues mixed in with Polish and European folk fiddle music. Happily, Warsaw Village Band have the musical skill it takes to make the combination sound perfectly natural.

The story of Infinity begins with the birth of Wojtek and Maja's first child. In the liner notes for the album, Wojtek describes the album's concept as "the need to take a dip in tradition, derive from it and create contemporary and modern compositions -- to inspire other generations." Wojtek and Maja composed most of the music on Infinity, with the lyrics continuing to come from from mostly traditional sources as they had on the previous albums. It appears as though the fiddler and the cellist have assumed a much greater degree of control of the band's musical direction than they had in the past, but the quality of the music is certainly not adversely affected by it. If anything, the band sounds better than ever.

Infinity opens much like Uprooting did, with a potent song in a jig rhythm called "Wise Kid Song." From there, the band rattles off one strong track after another. The ominous minor key ballad called "1.5 h" features viola and Eastern-inspired vocals from Tomasz Kukurba, a member of a prominent Polish klezmer band. The unusual "Skip Funk" which mixes the scratching of a DJ with plucked string instruments and a very jazzy vocal from Maja. "Is Anybody in There?" is the albums strongest track and an instant classic, setting a traditional Polish work song with energetic group vocals to the beat of African-style drumming. "Heartbeat" is an intriguing duet between Maja and a Polish R&B singer named Natalia Przybysz, with whom Maja went to music school. Maja plays her cello like an upright bass while Wojtek plucks his fiddle like a mandolin, but the soulful vocals and a chord progression worthy of Stevie Wonder make this song really make this song special. The ironically titled instrumental "Polska fran Polska" is a tribute to the embrace of the polska, originally a Polish style of tune and dance, by the folk musicians of Sweden. The band recaptures the frenzy of some of their earlier instrumentals with "Polka Story." "I've Met the Girl" mixes string harmonics with insistent percussion and some the group's best vocal work.

Simply put, Infinity is a carnival of delights, providing listeners with an eclectic and exceptionally good combination of the familiar and the unusual. Warsaw Village Band are not afraid to take chances, and right now they have both the energy and the superior musicianship to pull off anything they try. They are a great band that's on a roll. While I'd strongly recommend all three albums of theirs that I have, Infinity is the best of the three, and better than any album I've yet reviewed for this blog.

Overall grade: A+

reviewed by Scott

A promotional clip for Infinity. Yes some subtitles would be nice, but it does give a good glimpse into the workings of the band.

No comments: