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Pimpono’s School of Survival

On Survival Kit, the ensemble led by Szymon Gąsiorek, one of the most interesting young composers of the moment, presents an attractive follow-up to ideas from their debut album. It is a tumultuous, complex story that utilizes a number of intriguing solutions.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

The raptures surrounding the 2016 debut of this Polish-Danish-Norwegian project somehow eluded me. So did the raptures concerning various collaborations between Danes and Poles, and the frequent migrations of young jazz musicians to the Copenhagen conservatory. With hindsight, this is not something I ought to lament, as music should be way more important than international contact networks. Still, it ought to be said that Pimpono’s frontman, Szymon Gąsiorek, is a busy bee: in October, he organised Idealistic Festival in Warsaw and Copenhagen and before the end of the year he also managed to put out the amazing album E/I and another one by Alfons Silk, his duo with Grzegorz Tarwid. Now, Pimpono is accompanied by a parallel release, of Gąsiorek’s duo I Love My Mother. And if that weren’t enough, he also runs his label and has a packed live schedule.

Hope Love Peace Faith was a breath of fresh air, but also – perhaps above all – it oozed a youthful, carefree spirit, which could be inferred as much from the music as from the texts scattered here and there (Don’t Grow Up / It’s a Trap!). This musical conglomeration juxtaposed jazz, post-jazz, punk and ambient. Plus, you had the unusual instrumentation: drums, three double basses, a trumpet, a tuba and two saxes. There was space for some solid teamwork between members of the ensemble, but also for individual antics of each of the musicians. Like on a school trip: we’re all in this together, but everyone has to make their mark anywa. Survival Kit verifies this condition – there’s no room here for naivety or digressions about growing up, we have to show a brave face to the world. The band’s line-up has changed slightly: the first album was recorded by 12 people, with 8 core members. Now, this core is made up of 7 musicians, and there are 2 invited guests.

From the first notes played in “Mały”, you can year that this jazz ensemble really plays with compositions, moods and dynamics. The close-knit brass section closely follows the leader, keenly responding to his instructions. Gąsiorek even stands behind the microphone a few times. In the title track, his voice is clearly set apart against the background of broken, marching rhythms. He sings what seems to be a direct reference to the title and carefree nature of his debut: We don’t care about Love about Peace about Faith about Hope (…)We just need to survive (…) fight for life. The above can be read in a number of ways: the sophomore record verifies the band, their entry into adulthood, serious activity on the music scene or, most broadly speaking, the hard times we get to live in. This is something we have to face up to – but also something that deserves a musical commentary. The attitude of woke millennials? The question is, to what extent this awakening is backed by action. This is also commented upon: the cheeky “Tęsknota do światopoglądu” [Longing for a worldview] shows the confusion and void left after the slogan has been shouted – not just in the title, but through the drone surface built by the brass section, double basses and electronics. Survival Kit is filled to the brim with refreshing compositional solutions – from jazz explorations, big-band sounds, through ambient, improvised passages to cavalcades of rhythm mapped out by Gąsiorek. In “Conservation of Momentum”, he adopts a manner that reminds me of death metal a bit, not unlike what Macio Moretti is doing in LXMP. The drumming is all cut up, changing, as if struggling both with the convention and the surrounding reality. The piece is buzzing with emotions – of the mobilizing type, again bringing us back to the record’s title.

Pimpono is strongly rooted in the realities of the day – as a unique group that, in the European dimension, can switch between lightness and urgency almost in an instant. While yass musicians would conceal jokes in the titles of their tracks, here we get straight-faced declarations that refer to more than just the narrow Polish context: take “Fear Is The Only Negative Phenomenon”, for example. However, the talk factor is not overplayed; the entire album is vibrant, energetic and filled with motifs that are smoothly tied in with each other. Like in the “Gliding/It’s Not About Fun” diptych – theoretically, these are two separate numbers, but the thing is, they can’t function without one another. The first evolves from a rhythmical, melodious form into a tour-de-force of brass sonorism; rustling, flickering, playing with silence. And when it gets dark, it subtly morphs into the second track: we’re back to the song formula and the vocals reappear, with a rock climax and heavy riffs. And yet, apparently, it’s not about fun. The whole album is peppered with such unconventional solutions – broken rhythms transit into the post-rock finale in “Listen Stay Strong Great Patience” with its mercurial drumming. But that’s just a glitch, a hiccup to the routine – in a moment, the band is back on track, as if nothing’s happened. A certain uneasiness remains, though, despite their victorious return. With robust ideas for compositions, their sound and the formal moves that keep you alert throughout. And a raciness able to keep this stylistic concoction within sensible boundaries. You really don’t want to start 2020 listening to anything else.

Pimpono Ensemble, Survival Kit, Love and Beauty