Young, largely city-based, musicians finding and learning from the old village players has created an upsurge of enthusiasm for, and dancing to, Polish traditional dance music, mainly its lurching, energetically fiddled mazureks (mazurkas). The playing, organising and teaching work of Janusz Prusinowski and his band have been a huge influence in this revival since the time of their first album in 2008.
Wiązanka brings a further and very engaging burst of dance-impelling energy that I'm finding as enthusiasm-inducing as I did that first Prusinowski Trio album.
All of the material is traditional, much of it learned from living or recently deceased musicians from across lowland Poland who played for weddings, funerals and as village entertainers. While keeping all the traditional technique and instrumentation, WoWaKin have not only absorbed the essence but vitalise it with their own approaches.
There's the fiddle played by Paula Kinaszewska; Poland's distinctive 3-row accordion and cymbały (hammered dulcimer) played by Bartłomiej Woźniak; and the syncopatedly stick-thumped deep tambourine, bass drum, cymbal (the percussion instrument, not to be confused with cymbały) and basetla (a three-stringed cello-sized bass) of Mateusz Wachowiak, plus touches of banjolele and trumpet. The singing of all three, individually or together, is as fine and jubilant as their playing.
The rhythms of traditional mazureks, and their kindred obereks, can seem bizarrely angular and complicated; it's not obvious how the percussion fits with the melody. And the connection of the dancing, a flat-footed turning couple dance, to the music can itself seem less than obvious. Many mazureks, as on this album, are also songs, though, and that helps to emphasise the melodic shape, if not necessarily where to put your feet! So teaching the dancing has been an important part of the revival; it helps understand where the beats are, as learning to dance similarly does for Swedish polska, which evolved from the arrival of Polish mazurka in Sweden.
With singing on many of the tracks, and moving between mazureks, lyric songs, polkas and a Jewish foxtrot with sources from several of Poland's many regions, the album is a well-varied sequence. Some of the tunes are grouped in wiązankas (bunches), hence its title.
The opening pair of mazureks swing in, effectively beckoning one into the album. They're named after the musicians from whom they were learned; it's good to see that in the booklet not only are the musicians from whom tunes are learned credited, but there are photos and short bios of many of them.
The second track contrasts nicely with first; it's an elegant wedding song from south Mazovia, with Kinaszewska's appealing lead vocal accompanied by cymbały and basetla, ethereal group backing vocals and ending with her strong improvising violin solo break.
"Kalineczka" (the cranberry tree), about a maiden losing her flower head-wreath (a symbol of maidenhood), is sung by drummer Woźniak to his delicately picked banjolele multitracking, before bursting into a full-band Owczarek dance.
Woźniak's vocal in "Wiązanka Druga" (second bunch), is right in the high-straining wild tradition one also hears in the music of the Polish Tatras. There's a particularly quirky approach to the "Polka from Szydłowiec", which slows down in the middle as if the tape were slowing, leading to an interlude of plinking and ghostly vocal before winding back up.
WoWaKin aren't cloning their forbears, they're running with their baton, and I've a feeling they'd be delighted.
- Andrew Cronshaw
Find the trio online.
WoWaKin's Kraj za miastem
Janusz Prusinowski Kompania