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No. 233 October 2023


translation Marek Dyba
images Allegro, „High Fidelity”

No 233

October 1, 2023


POLISH NUMBER, that you’re reading is devoted, no surprise, exclusively to Polish products. However, we have such an idée fixe to show what's going on in Poland against the background of a country that is among the world leaders in audio - JAPAN. So we begin this issue of "High Fidelity" with a brief look at Polish discs being released in Japan.

”VE BEEN WONDERING, why so little Polish music is released by the Japanese labels. And I don't mean the so-called "international career" that many Polish bands and performers are after, but attempts to release music created between the Bug and the Oder in the best possible way. And the Japanese, as I have been trying to convince you of for more than twenty years, are, nomen omen, perfect in their perfectionism.

⸜ EWA DEMARCZYK with Live album at Omagatoki • photo Allegro

This is what I wonder, and actually I do not find an answer to this question. And even if I think I have it right before my eyes, after looking at it, I let it go, insufficiently satisfied with it. And yet it should be clear, just like the fact that no Polish cars were even driven in Japan, no one there printed books on Polish paper, nor have I found information about anyone in the Japanese Islands being a connoisseur of Polish audio equipment. Indeed, all these examples are united by mediocre product quality, making the reasons for their absence THERE clear and needing no explanation.

It's a little different with music. It is a "cultural good" and as such was and is governed by different laws than the industry. And that's because the latter is related to the level of technological development, while music is born everywhere, with no vector that could be called "advancement." The only element connecting the two worlds could be clout, and this indeed is related to money.

But to the point - I have dreamed, many times, of releasing Polish music in the best possible way, on SACD, Platinum SHM-CD, UHQCD, Blu-spec CD2, or - oh my naivety! - on XRCD24. However, the dreams ended there. For some reason, the Japanese branches of the recording labels, and often just the parent companies, were not convinced that it was worth it (for more on polonics from Japan → HERE).

I thought that the directors of the Polish branches of Warner Music, Universal Music or Sony Music, to cite the biggest ones, were capable of getting their counterparts in Japan interested in Polish music. Over time, I realized that this is rather unfeasible, because big publishing houses function like corporations, and a corporation is not about cooperation at all, but about competing with each other. Which puts things in a completely different light.

⸜ A set of five SBB albums released by Belle Antique on SHM-CD

The albums I have in mind could be, almost entirely, reissues (remasters) of classics of jazz, classical, electronic, and perhaps even rock music. Meanwhile, as I wrote in 2019, Japanese publishers are much more interested in Polish contemporary music (more → HERE ˻ PL ˺). A quick Internet search will allow you to find out that as early as in 1996, EWA DEMARCZYK's Live was released on Omagatoki, the same year Belle Antique released Baśnie by prog-rock band COLLAGE, and Roadrunner Records released Moonshine.

It seems, moreover, that Polish progressive music is welcome there. In 2014, Belle Antique, the same publishing house that had previously taken an interest in Collage, released a series of five SBB albums, in mini-LP format and on SHM-CDs. On the other hand, this year saw the release of ID.Entity by RIVERSIDE. The latter, however, would be an exception. I know from somewhere that in the case of SBB it was due to the persistence of a "third party", namely Michał Wilczynski of GAD Records. So perhaps this is a way forward? That is, contacts that bypass the machinery of "majors", based on personal sympathies. Ultimately, the problem of so-called "clearing" of copyrights must involve their owners, that is, the record labels. However, this would be a mechanical process with fewer problems.

⸜ VADER’S two-disc album entitled The Empire

On the other hand, the five SBB albums we mentioned (2014), VADER with The Empire (2016) or RIVERSIDE's ID.Entity are already albums of a new era, if you will, since they were pressed in Japan. What's more, SBB and Riverside on next-generation media (SHM-CD and Blu-spec CD2, respectively; review of the latter → HERE ˻ PL ˺).

Still, there is a record label from the Islands, which regularly releases albums by Polish musicians. Or rather, two, with extras. We are talking about → CORE PORT. It was established in 2014 and is located in the city of Kokubunji-shi, which is part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. A glance at its catalog, current and archived, reveals that it has specialized in rather niche musicians and bands, mostly known in their own countries. But musicians and bands that are really very good.

And now - back in 2017 Core Port released Polish Pianism (RPOZ-10037). As I wrote in its review, this is a compilation album, compiled from 11 recordings from various releases. It features pieces starring the piano, played by Sławek Jaskułke, Możdżer, Hani Rani, Piotr Wyleżoł, Michał Tokaj and the Simple Acoustic Trio. The set, as I noted, was quite eclectic, as the listed artists present different musical sensibilities, and yet it is an enjoyable album (more → HERE).

Yoshinori Shirao was responsible for preparing this set, and the new master was prepared by CM Punch (Shirao-san's collaboration with other Polish performers is mentioned by Jolanta Młodawska-Bronowska in her study New Opportunities for Polish-Japanese Cooperation: Diagnosis and Prospects. The album was decorated with photographs by Maciej Komorowski, taken in Krakow.

Two years later, the Japanese are releasing White Flag by HANI RANI and DOBRAWY CZOCHER, after which they regularly add more albums by the pianist. Earlier, since 2016, Core Port started releasing SŁAWEK JASKUŁKE - almost all of his recordings are available (that's why I spoke about two performers). The latest Polish albums with its logo are, and here there is no surprise, <4>Live at Jassmine by Jaskułke (2022) and On Giacometti by Rani (2013).

Polish Pianism, the first Core Point release with Polish music

I am curious how the Poles got there. I'll ask the domestic publishers of these titles, but for the time being it's fair to assume that these events happened due to some "personal contacts." Which is easier to achieve when one small label talks to another small label. Which brings us back to what we've already discussed: the problem with releasing Polish records and Polish music in Japan is the problem of the labels themselves, not of the music as such. Because it is, after all, a good time for lesser-known music, for example from Poland.

When I was thinking about what I'd like to see with the words "Made in Japan" but with the note "recorded in Poland," two possibilities came to mind. One is the "series" track. It's not hard to imagine ten - ten is a good, round number - "Polish Jazz" titles, is it? Or a decade of Polish electronic music. It could be a group of more commercial musicians, such as Krzysztof Duda, Mikołaj Hertel, Władysław Komendarek, Marek Biliński, and of the youngster such as Pauszek and Rudź, to name just a few that come to my mind at the moment. And the list is much longer.

Who knows if they wouldn't be more interested in something even more offbeat, namely the "Polish Radio Experimental Studio" series by BÔŁT RECORDS (more → HERE ˻ PL ˺). There are, after all, notable names such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Bogusław Schaeffer and Tadeusz Rudnik. You can also find books on the market in English dedicated to the subject.

Established in 1957, the studio was located in the Polish Radio building in the so-called "Black Room" designed by Zofia and Oskar Hansen. As we read in Wikipedia, "the walls consisted of black and red rotating panels, which were smooth (reflecting sound) on one side and perforated (absorbing sound) on the other. The panels were painted yellow and red." Its shape referred to Oskar Hansen's concept of open form. I describe it extensively because the Hansens are well-known in the world of architecture for their unconventional ideas, and their ideas had multitudes of "followers."

⸜ Sławek Jaskułke at Core Port is a star, and so is Hania Rani

The second track one could follow is the "personal" track. Komeda's name, after he wrote the music for Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968, Paramount), or Niemen's, known from albums released by the German branch of CBS, could also be a good "lure". Because non-Polish publishers need to be interested by something concrete. These are commercial enterprises, and in order to operate they need to make money. Good music is the basis, but also it’s only a fraction of what is needed to promote an album. Fortunately, we have everything we need to do that in Poland. Except maybe an idea of how to do it.

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"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

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