Monday, 5 March 2018

Czesław Niemen - Niemen Vol. 1 & 2 (1973)

Staying in 70s Poland for the moment, here's a couple of fascinating albums by the legendary singer, organist and songwriter Czesław Niemen (1939-2004).  Released at the height of a jazz fusion phase, Niemen Vol. 1 and Niemen Vol. 2 are actually regarded as a double-album released as two separate LPs - most subsequent reissues have them as one CD under the title Marionetki, but the one I managed to get hold of was on two CDs under the original titles.  Which is nice, but anyway, on to the music.

Since the late 60s, Niemen had been gaining popularity as a classical-influenced, progressive rock organist, and a strong, soulful singer.  Both are very much in evidence here, and the lyrics are settings of verse by Polish poets.  The language barrier unfortunately precludes me from enjoying the latter, but that doesn't matter much on Vol. 1, which is dominated by two lengthy instrumentals.

At 17 minutes, Requiem dla Van Gogha is the longest and most abstract - lots of atmospheric organ and scraping violin.  After a short, upbeat piano and fuzz-guitar based song (the guitarist is SBB's Apostolis Anthimos, who worked with Tomasz Stańko in the 80s), the 13-minute Inicjały brings back the organ, violin, has intermittent wordless vocalisations, and introduces lengthy trails of smeared trumpet.  The result of that is strongly reminiscent of 70s Miles Davis at his most open-ended - think He Loved Him Madly - and is probably my favourite thing here.
Vol. 2 has five tracks, all with vocals - even if the only Polish I can remember from my brief time there is 'dwa bilety prosze' for the bus stations, it's hard not to be moved by how great Niemen's voice was.  I've read comparisons to Joe Cocker, but he's not quite as gritty/bluesy as that to my ears.  Anyhow, we start with Marionetki, with doomy organ and drums for a few minutes, before setting off on another epic journey with Piosenka dla zmarłej and some enojyably knotty jazz-prog in the intro.  There's much more guitar on Vol. 2, and Anthimos' solo midway through this track is a good taste of what's to come.

Nine minutes of Z pierwszych ważniejszych odkryć are announced with some driving guitar, before Anthimos switches to a mellower slide for the verses.  Lots of good gear-changes follow, more fuzz lead and even some funky drumming - I think this track is my highlight of Vol. 2.  The minute-long oddity Ptaszek made me look up the lyrics and pop them into a translator just to find out what the manic laughter was about - it's a great absurd verse describing a crazy bird.  The writer, inter-war poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, certainly seems to have been a fascinating character.  Lastly, Niemen stretches those great pipes of his again for Com Uczynił, a powerful ballad with another fantastic jazz-funk middle section.

Disc 1
Disc 2