Album of the Week \\ EABS muse on Polish identity in the ambitious ‘Slavic Spirits’

7th June 2019

On ‘Slavic Spirits’, Polish outfit EABS imbue their music with profound ideas of national identity, and the music doesn’t suffer from these lofty ambitions.

Words: Harry Stott

Polish jazz has a long and storied history. Once an illicit music of youth and resistance, from the catacombs Polish musicians still managed to produce some of the finest music the mid-20th century European Jazz scene had to offer (give Krzysztof Komeda’s ‘Astigmatic‘ a spin if you’re looking for an introduction). EABS, a septet from Wrocław, know a thing or two about this history and the pedigree of players their country has spawned – their sophomore offering was an innovative take on some of Komeda’s best compositions. On their new record ‘Slavic Spirits’, released on 7 June, the band draw on their country’s past, creating what is an album of incredible depth, something that professes to be a sonic assertion of their cultural identity.

But before digging into the themes and curious folkloric tales etched into each of the tracks, let’s allow the music to speak for itself. The septet, who are joined on the album by London’s very own Tenderlonious, create a rich, full texture with a standard lineup of horns, rhythm section and a smorgasbord of synths layered on top, as keys man Marek Pędziwiatr giddily explores the timbres of a Rhodes MKII, a Minimoog Voyager and a Roland DC-30. EABS use this set up to establish a sound that veers between flailing collective compositions and hook heavy spiritual jazz numbers, that each contain an enigmatic kind of melancholy.

There’s a tendency on a few of the tracks, like ‘Południca’ and ‘Leszy’, to open at a saunter, ambling along without any real direction. However, any complacency is quickly banished as the music works itself up into a maniacal frenzy – both those tracks, like the opener ‘Ciemność’, finish with a potent dynamism. This is something that the album’s real hit, ‘Przywitanie Słońca’, does from the start, and the tension it opens with, provided by a relentless piano line and choral backing, feels straight out the Kamashi Washington playbook. Once horns arrive, with them comes a euphoric release, ending the record on satisfied, contented note.

However, if you really want to get to grips with this record, then the end of the music should provide little closure: it’s going to require a little more work. ‘Slavic Spirits’ is probably best understood as a profound concept album, as the band and their executive producer Sebastian Jóźwiak have put a quite remarkable amount of research into this project. If you pick up the deluxe edition of the record, which comes equipped with an extensive booklet, you’ll see why.

EABS say they want to recapture a sense of national and Slavic identity with the record, musing on the spiritual condition of their society through their music. Each track is part of what the band term their quest ‘to get in touch with the world of a long and brutally lost culture’, using stories from Polish folklore to reclaim a part of their national soul they think has been lost or forgotten. The term they use to capture this feeling is ‘Slavic Melancholia’, something that neatly defines the kind of nostalgic longing you can hear in the tunes.

You really can’t fault EABS’ ambition; this is an undertaking which has no pretensions of modesty and understands the grandiose themes it is trying to get across. With these intentions in mind, listen back to the album and that wistful quality you can hear begins to make sense. The tension of the final track, the ambling sorrow of the earlier songs; they capture that sense of nostalgia – the ‘Slavic Melancholia’ that the band set out to imbue their music with.

Concept albums frequently get it quite wrong: music tends to suffer when a pretentious (and often meaningless) affectation of high art overwhelms its creators. But when you can back up your ideas with lucid research, and can make music that conforms to your lofty ideas while also standing on its own, then you can achieve something of serious quality and depth. On ‘Slavic Spirits’, EABS have done just this.

Order or download EABS ‘Slavic Spirits’ on Bandcamp

Words: Harry Stott

Tenderlonious plays Love Supreme this Summer – find out more

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *