Of all 10 discs, this was the one that seemed to be paying the most vital and exciting tribute to Poland’s traditional music heritage. Much of it comes from traditional sources: there is one tune taken from Oskar Kolberg’s collection and other tunes learned from old-master musicians like Maria Siwiec, Marian Lipiec, Anna Koperkowa and Kazimierz Meto. The album is like a lesson in the variety of forms a mazurka can take with different speeds and accents. But it’s not just a question of imitating the past, but making a living, danceable sound, rooted in tradition. The JP Trio expands the instrumentation to include flute, clarinet and trumpet with five regular members. The repertoire is expanded too with settings of poetry by Leopold Staff and Rabindranath Tagore. A powerful statement of faith in the strength of Poland’s traditional culture
Simon Broughton, Chief Editor of Songlines Magazine, Folk Phonogram of the Year by Polish Radio II, 2013
Wild music, as they say, from the heart of Poland. An underlying pulse in a flexible, syncopated, sometimes stretched triple time, over which floats a melodic line of theme-stating notes followed by a flurry of catch-up notes, suggestive of an adult making strides followed by a scampering child. The dance involves a couple in almost trance-like flat-footed turning, with creative punctuations of side-by-side stepping, a counter-turn or a sudden loud masculine footstamp.
Traditional lead instruments are fiddle, or Poland’s very individual, multiple-key-row form of the accordion, over the chug of bowed open strings on a rough-hewn cello-sized basy, and the raw bang and thump of a stick-struck tambourine, or a bass drum, triangle and cymbal; the percussion doesn’t so much hold down the beat as make an impulsive, capricious-seeming running commentary on it and the melody.
Since their last album, and given a springboard by a successful showcase at Womex 2012, the Prusinowski Trio have been taking their music and dance-leading worldwide, while continuing as energetic prime movers in the burgeoning mazurka enthusiasm in Poland. (See the feature in fR 338/339 on them and the mazurka festival that they organise in Warsaw).
Their third CD continues to reflect the melodic and rhythmic variety of mazurek (mazurka), oberek (similar musically to mazurek, but instrumental only, whereas mazureks are usually originally songs). There’s a lot of variety here even between one mazurek and another, and in the album’s well-judged flow the band interpolates other types of song and tune, including polka, lyrical slow melodies and settings of lyrics by Rabindranath Tagore and other poets.
Unlike in some other European traditional revivals that are more disconnected from living tradition, the band have been able to seek out and learn from living old village players and singers (one of the most influential of whom, fiddler Jan Gaca, died in August). But they’re not copyist-preservationists, they’re continuing the tradition with sympathetic bold new approaches, building on the improvisation that’s already within the tradition and using unusual combinations of traditional instruments.
The Trio is actually a quintet: Janusz Prusinowski on fiddle, vocals, Polish accordion and hammered dulcimer; Piotr Piszczatowski on tambourine and baraban drum; Michal Zak on flute, shawm and clarinet; Szczepan Pospieszalski’s trumpet takes the melodies alongside Janusz and Michal; and Piotr Zgorzelski, who’s also the dance teacher/leader on their gigs, underpins with basy and a touch of tenor horn and double bass. The bulk of the singing is by Janusz who, without aping them, has the natural, open-throated edge to his singing that one hears from village singers. One of their key village mentors, Maria Siwiec from the Radomskie region, brings further strength to the album, singing with feisty energy dance songs that lead into the band’s instrumental versions.
Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots Magazine, review of „Knee-deep in Heaven” album, 2014
The mazurka is not dead! I was thrilled to say it, again and again, after attending a concert of Janusz Prusinowski Trio at EUropean Jazz @ UCLA on October 10, 2013 at the Schoenberg Hall in Los Angeles. The fact that the performance was included in a jazz series was interesting, because of the question of style that arises when listening to the music that is perfectly suited for dancing, yet modern and original, with improvisatory elements that resemble early New Orleans jazz and klezmer music.
What I found most fascinating about the Prusinowski Trio (apart from the fact that it is not a Trio, but has up to five or more members, but I’ll return to the musicians later), is their ability to bring folklore and Polish national dances back to life as a relevant and popular genres of contemporary dance music. They make tradition come alive and this, I think, is their greatest achievement.
Maja Trochimczyk, Mea Kultura, 2013
The World Music Expo (WOMEX) took place in Thessaloniki this year. Despite my best intentions to inform myself beforehand about the bands that would be playing there I found myself as usual, deluged with choices of which music to cover, and surprised by many of the acts. It was easiest to cover the daycases, as they did not overlap, were all in the same intimate room, and mostly acoustic music was presented.
Still, I was unprepared for how much I would like the Janusz Prusinowski Trio, which appeared here with two other members. (The band members maintain that they still want to be called a trio no matter how many members ultimately join, in order to continue referencing the three-beat meter upon which so much of the music is based.)
What struck me right away about this music was its amazing ability to mix the feel and power of village dance music with the personal contemporary sensibilities of the players. (Currently the Warsaw Village band are the most high-profile ensemble working with the Polish folk repertoire, but they have injected art-punk into the music, and so they are a different animal entirely.) The addition of wind and brass to the Trio’s sound really pushes their music into another realm. Listen to the music about three minutes in and hear the amazing resemblance to some of those classic jazz improv tracks from the late ’60s and early ’70s. I questioned wind player Michal Żak about the jazz references and he wrote back:
I wouldn’t call it jazz, but somehow it can be perceived — long notes, fade ins and fade outs in intervals on such instruments always bring the thought of a big band. But we’d rather call it spontaneous creation. We never plan with Szczepan (trumpeter) how it will go. We’re just trying to catch each other on the spot so that can make the common ground with jazz. The other thing is that improvisational feature of traditional music will always get the connection to jazz. But we don’t play jazz, nor arrange it intentionally”.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this music comes from its dance origins. The mazurkas and polkas as danced in the Central Polish villages have a built in SOMETHING… not exactly syncopations or tricky time signatures per se, but time stretches and beat emphases determined by the dancers stepping and spinning. Look at how dancer/bassist Piotr Zgorzelski moves as he plays, and you can get an idea of this elastic approach. In his introduction to the set, Andrew Cronshaw compared the spinning to Sufi dancing, and I believe there is a relationship to the hypnotic, floating ride of an hours-long couple dance like this to the ever-circling trance of the dervish.
Prusinowski is actively involved in documenting the music of the last generation of village players, so that it can be passed on, rejuvenated, enjoyed, and most importantly, danced, by the next generation.
Michal Shapiro, The Huffington Post, 2012
Muzykanci z miasta z wiejskimi śpiewaczkami stopili się w jedno w duchu Mazurka (…), który mimo swojej egzotyki i pierwotnej prostoty staje się czymś poruszającym słuchaczy nawet z zupełnie innych kręgów estetycznych, kulturowych. To doprawdy sztuka odnaleźć tę „dzikość serca” i szczerze dodawać „skrzydeł”, choćby na flecie i szałamai. Słuchając unikatowych nagrań prof. A. Bieńkowskiego, który opatrzył ten album swoim komentarzem, można w końcu zrozumieć, że ta „Brzydota” naturszczykowskich – autentycznych korzeni może być aż piękna i urzekająca swoją dzikością i siermiężnością nie do podrobienia.
W przypadku „Mazurków” to jednak nowa jakość zrodzona z miłości i ta magia zaklęta w mozaice kamyków…
Włodzimierz Kleszcz, Polskie Radio, 2008
Mazurki, oberki, kujawiaki grane i śpiewane na płycie są oryginalnymi melodiami konkretnych skrzypków, nazywają się nawet: Lewandowskiego, Jedynaka, Metów, a jednocześnie jest to autorska wypowiedź Prusinowskiego. – Jest czas na praktykowanie u mistrza, na poznanie jego stylu i tajników gry – mówi Prusinowski, a potem się idzie na swoje i gra się tak, jak serce dyktuje, w tym fachu zawsze tak się działo. Teraz, swobodnie władając językiem wiejskich skrzypiec Prusinowski mówi o tym co w jego duszy gra. Tworzy pomost między przeszłością, a tym co tu i teraz.
Nagranie na płytę muzyki, która w istocie swej powstaje z dynamiki ciała, z tego co dzieje się między muzykantami a tańczącymi to duże wyzwanie. Fakt, że rytm na bębnie i basach grają tu świetni tancerze- Piotr Piszczatowski i Piotr Zgorzelski, bardzo pomaga. Flet drewniany i szałamaja (Michał Żak), doskonale zgrane ze skrzypcami, dodają wrażenie trójwymiarowości nagrania, przestrzeni.”
Jagna Knittel, Gazeta Wyborcza, 2008
From article about Mazurka-Festival: Janusz Olejniczak – one of the most renowned classical pianists of the country – opens the second half of the concert with a Mazurka by Frédéric Chopin. The musicians of Janusz Prusinowski’s Trio – in fact a quartet – are standing beside the elegant grand piano. Olejniczak starts the virtuosic music: sparkling arpeggios, fully resounding bass notes, luxurious chords… Suddenly, in the third part of the Mazurka, the band joins: flute, fiddle, a rustic double bass with only one string and a huge drum with a large rattling cymbal mounted on the top. Chopin’s exquisite romantic music mingles with the sound of the Polish village. A clash of two worlds – but it works fine….
Tom Daun, Folker, 2010
2008’s album Mazurki by the Prusinowski Trio was the most inspiring to come my way out of Poland that year, and this new one maintains the standard. No reconstructionist attempts to bring back a past era; these musicians are going for what, to past generations and now, makes these tunes and rhythms and ways of playing good.
The music they produce, lurching, rhythm-jumping is vigorous, grainy-textured, even appearing rough on the surface, but in no way is any of the playing anything but extremely skilled; these are contemporarily aware players, with deep love and understanding of central Polish traditional music and its techniques. There are frequent reminders of the wanderings of some Polish dance-forms across Europe, particularly to Sweden; Zawierucha, for example, has that stretched three-beat Swedish polska hesitancy, as does the first part of Namolny Gosc Weselny before it moves into an almost Breton-like 4/4.
For this album, and often live, the trio is a quartet; I assume it was previously a limiting factor that if Janusz Prusinowski was fiddling he couldn’t simultaneously play the small traditional bass, and the other two were generally fully occupied. So Piotr Zgorzelski bows or plucks the bass where it’s needed, with Prusinowski on ecstatic fiddle, ringing hammered dulcimer, Polish accordion and harmonium and main vocals, Michal Zak adding strident shawm, softer-toned wooden flutes and clarinet, and Piotr Piszczatowski thudding big baraban drum and tambourine, with guests on occasional trumpet and double bass.
Except for the final song, the group’s own elegiac setting of an anonymous poem, all of the constantly interesting, rhythmically varied material on the album – mazureks, obereks, kujawieks, wiwaks, polkas and walking dances – that they’ve learned in the course of meeting and playing with surviving older village musicians, some of whom can be seen in the photos on their MySpace site. They don’t mimic these players; they internalise their techniques, apply their own wider musical influences and expertise, and convey the thrill and dance-impulse in an album full of spirit and listenability.
Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots, review of „Serce” album, 2010
„Serce“ means „heart“ – and that’s exactly where this CD aims at. Traditional music from the heart of Poland, freshly treated and played with a big heart. The approach of Prusinowski’s Trio (in reality a quartet) resembles the practice of a historically informed Early music ensemble. Traditional instruments of Polish folk music are used: fiddle, a shaky old akkordion, wooden transverse flutes, some simple reed instruments, a very rustic bass and rattling percussion. The repertoire, too, is mostly traditional: Kujawiaks and Mazurkas, Obereks and Polkas from Masowia, the region along the river Visla. The performers have learned from old village musicians – not only how to play the melodies, but also the significance and the role of music: it shall come right from the heart. And this, maybe, makes it so different from the playing of an Early Music ensemble. It is not about reconstructing sounds of the past – it’s all about evoke emotion. The band succeed in reaching that by investing a lot of their own creativity: melancholic improvisations, songs rendered with a fragile but intense voice, surprising changes of key, rhythmic freedom, wonderful trumpet solos. Music that revokes times long gone by – but still deeply rooted in our present time.
Tom Daun, review of „Serce” Album, 2010
Frédéric Chopin’s 200th Birthday Party – A Polish Jazz Celebration was presented at Carnegie Hall on October 4 presented by the High Arts Society of Warsaw, Poland . This show was arranged to demonstrate the composer’s source of inspiration – folk music, as well as his work being a source of inspiration of jazz and contemporary music. The ambitious concert was performed in Chicago, New York City and Inowrocław, Poland.(….)
The Janusz Prusinowski Ensemble, in my opinion was the standout of the evening. Focused and concise, they offered the rural perspective of the music from the country side that influenced and inspired the great artist. With antique instrumentation they presented an expression of vitality and authenticity.
“Oj chmielu, chmielu” (their first selection) is the oldest known ceremonial wedding song, sung during oczepiny, when the bride symbolically passes into the state of married ladies and when a bonnet replaces her head wreath. From the scratchy, clear-toned folk violin to the emotional shawm, punctuated by the baraban cymbal-drum and the rhythmic foot step-stamp motif of the musicians, the tune resonated through the hallowed establishment of Carnegie Hall.
The shawm, a medieval and Renaissance musical instrument of the woodwind family made in Europe from the late 13th century until the 17th century was developed from the oriental zurna and is the predecessor of the modern oboe. The instrument gave the song a hypnotic transcendental quality.
The song is derived from pagan times, before the adoption of Poland’s baptism in 966. Its tonality of the pentatonic and modal scale indicate an even earlier origin of the melody. The second piece was a suite of melodies that may have inspired Chopin including “Czemu nie orzesz, Jasieńku,” which is reflected in Mazurka in G minor, Op. 24 No. 1 with its rhythmic rubato, minor scales and minor subtleties of melody and harmonic accompaniment. Theaccents of przytup stamping broke into dance by the final rendition of Chopin’s Mazurka in D major, Op. 33, No. 2.
The national mazur is based on the folk mazurek (chłopskie mazur), but it represents a break with folktradition. Compared to the rural version,it differs by being filled with dotted rhythms. At the end of the 18th century the Mazurka became part of the piano repertoire and it reached perfection in the hands of Chopin. Upon examination it becomes clear that these compositions contain a blend of various traditions, dominant among which are the national mazur and the folk kujawiak. A triple-time round dance with a crescendo rhythm, the kujawiak consisting of the slow “sleeping” ksebka, followed by the true kujawiak odsibka – a “whirling dervish” of a mazur or oberek rhythm. (…)
Staś Kmieć, Polish American Journal Today, 2010
Mazurki brings us the wonderfully wiggly cross-rhythms – a triple beat but with stresses that can cross it in fours, fives or sevens – of the village mazureks (mazurkas) from Mazovia, Poland’s flat central region, played, with great skill and tremendous lift, by fiddler and occasional cymbalist Janusz Prusinowski, with baraban drum, tambourine and droning 3-string bass from Piotr Piszcatowski, joined by Michal Zak’s wild shawm and flute. Suddenly the similarly wiggly, asymmetric three-beat polskas of Sweden, which are indeed descended from the mazurka, have a direct connection.
It’s a magnificent album. These guys play with high skill and all the fire and rhythmic energy of the village musicians they’ve learned from. Prusinowski describes his damascene moment. “In an Andrzej Bienkowski film I heard the Józef Kedzierski band. It was a revelation: the authenticity, intensity and ease that I had been looking for throughout the world existed right here, beside me, in my own language”.
What’s probably that same film, of Kedzierski in 1986, can be seen on YouTube via ethnographer, photographer and painter Bienkowski’s website, www.andrzejbienkowski.blox.pl.
In his note to the Prusinowski album, Bienkowski writes, “No other dance aroused such euphoria in dancers and got musicians into such a trance”. Like Swedish polska there too, then. And, like polskas, mazureks are played differently in each village. But mazureks have short songs that go with them, and Bienkowski reckons that the variation of these songs because of local dialect and personal expression is reflected in the variations in mazurek melodies. The rhythm, though, is all-important, and in sung mazureks it’s connected with rhythmic rural work as much as with dance. On the CD too there’s singing, from Prusinowski and two female traditional singers, Maria Pezik and Maria Siwiec.
Far, as Bienkowski points out, from the elegant, waltz-like mazurkas known to the world through Chopin and others, this is music to ignite a new mazurka craze, as polska in Sweden became an obsessive heart to the traditional music revival. It could certainly send a thrill through the ranks of Swedish fiddlers, and lead to Mazovia mazureks creeping into the spelmansstämma buskspel sessions.
(And, food for the body as well as the mind, there’s unusual added value in the CD pack: multilingual recipe cards for the cream-toffee-topped Easter cake also known as mazurek).
Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots Magazine, review of „Mazurki” album, 2009