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Old Sounds New: The Janusz Prusinowski Trio at WOMEX 2012 (VIDEO)

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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. To find out more about the band, visit

The band gives special thanks to Andrzej Bienkowski, who first inspired Prusinowski through his archive of great folk music, and who has led the band to all the masters and mentors of the style they are playing. To find out more about Mr. Bienkowski and his endeavors, go to:

Janusz Prusinowski, fiddle
Michał Żak,shawm, clarinet
Piotr Piszczatowski, baraban drum
Piotr Zgorzelski, folk bass
Szczepan Pospieszalski, trumpet