EABS ‘Slavic Spirits’ LP/CD (Astigmatic) 4/5

The third studio LP from Polish septet EABS sees the ensemble switch focus from reinterpreting the music of film composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda and embark on investigating the Slavic mythology of their forebears. Embracing the eastern psyche of melancholia means this album has a distinct thematic direction. However, depressing it is not, it knows what works in creating rich textures and evoking ancient landscapes without losing touch of the vibrant lifeblood of the Jazz revival. In fact, this youthful band has enlisted the prominent London flautist and soprano saxophonist Tenderlonious as a guest artist for this record.

‘Slavic Spirits’ introduces itself with ‘Ciemność’, a frenzied cacophony of atonal wails carefully growing. It’s like a soundscape from a Jurassic swamp with strange creatures calling from every angle. Before long the next more civilised track ‘Leszy’ springs into life with twittering birds and some creeping piano lines. The breezy horns gently swing in, much like Kamasi Washington and the West Coast Get Down. The drumming of Marcin Rak is as rapturous as the squealing soprano solo of Tenderlonious. There are tight and funky moments of neo-soul with melodies which aren’t too over-elaborate and solos which aren’t tedious or over-long, yet the musicianship on show is impressive.

The band shows a more brooding side with the cinematic ‘Południca’. The pianist Marek Pędziwiatr plays over the changes with a soothing dexterity, giving an urgency to even the most sombre moments.

Spisek Jednego’s sound effects and samples spark the creativity from the others for a surreal and suspenseful freeform outing on ‘Ślęża (Mgła)’. Interestingly, Ślęża is a mountain not too far from the band’s hometown Wrocław which for thousands of years has been a site of religious importance to the Celts, Slavs and Vandals who have inhabited the area. The folk melodies on ‘Ślęża’ are given a upliftling setting and work fantastically as loop for the drums and synths to flourish. Tenderlonious’ flute makes these horn lines sing and gives them an ethnic feel. This track also features the experimental playing of Olaf Węgier on tenor sax, who stretches the limits of how far he can stray from the bassline held firm by bassist Paweł Stachowiak.

The ritualistic Gregorian chant ‘Przywitanie Słońca (Rytuał)’ is full of atmosphere with howling wolves and droning horns competing with the monotonous incantations. The brief interlude sets up the final track ‘Przywitanie Słońca’ nicely. This hip jazz symphony is full of groove with driving drums and humble acoustic piano alongside synth solos and an irrepressible soprano sax solo from Tenderlonious. It brings the album to a frenetic crescendo and a satisfying conclusion. EABS deserve to have their music heard by a wide audience. ‘Slavic Spirits’ is a delight to behold and full of fantastic melodies and polished musicianship.

Fred Neighbour