Waclaw Zimpel travelled to India without a repertoire in mind. His score included a clarinet and algoza, both of the family of woodwind instruments.
Invited by Abhishek Poddar, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in Bangalore, to jam with Saagara, comprising the city’s musicians — Ghatam Giridhar Udupa, percussionist Bhargava Halambi and tavil exponent K Raja — at the National Gallery of Modern Art earlier this year, Waclaw, the internationally acclaimed Polish jazz exponent, textured the performance with his newly-acquired knowledge of Carnatic raagas from flautist Ravichandra Kulur.
Waclaw’s relation to raagas finds its roots in Poland. “I have been interested in Indian music for years as a listener.
In 2012, I met Udupa at a performance back home in Poland,” says Waclaw.
He carried this interest in Indian music back to India, Bangalore, 10 months ago and studied under Kulur.
“Through the course of my training, I found that the Carnatic approach is completely diverse from the Western classical way, which I have grown up studying,” he says.
Adopting Carnatic tricksToday, Waclaw is trying to adopt some ideas from Carnatic music into his way of playing.
“Carnatic is complex in terms of language and philosophy,” says Waclaw, adding, “One of my main inspirations for studying Indian music is that it’s like practicing yoga — that’s the way I saw it from the West.
Teachings in European classical music are mostly about technique and transmitting emotions, but much less about spiritual practice.
In India, finding a guru to lead you spiritually in music is common, and that’s the main reason that brought me here.
”While the spiritual-intellectual combination that defines Indian classical music draws Waclaw, folk music traditions meander close to his heart.
“Folk music is very natural. It’s much less towards the intellect and draws closely on what has been passed on through generations. It’s diverse from the science and calculations of swaras.”
This meandering is also where Waclaw finds his connect with the algoza, the woodwind instrument that finds its roots in Rajasthan.
But he began his musical journey with Western classical music.
“My father plays piano, so my parents put my sisters and me through violin lessons, which I started when I was six years. When I turned 14, father bought me a blues harmonica, which draws its tradition from the Mississippi delta. Blues was a breakthrough then, and by the time I was 16, I started improvising on it and also learning the clarinet. I played the saxophone later, until I started my music academy,” says Waclaw, adding, “Although I started with classical music, today, I largely play jazz with a background of different folk cultures — Indian classical music, Slavic, Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian. I particularly like the music of the Jews from Yemen and other folk counterparts from Morocco and Mali, where tribal traditions are combined with Islamic music. Now, I’m interested in the Sufi music of the Gnawa people, who, through these trance songs, get rid of bad energies.”
Waclaw relates to the music of varied traditions by taking certain nuances from them. “I can never be a classical musician of diverse traditions.I can only take back with me some aspects from these music traditions to build my personal language,” he says.Until Waclaw renders the tunes, he composes to audiences.
“I don’t compose a lot — there are certain periods in a year when I do so, sometimes by a force of connection, like with Saagara. Oftentimes I just sit by a piano and the compositions come and go. At other times, the tunes flow while I am practising on my clarinet, walking around. The time of sharing these compositions at a concert is an extraordinary situation for me — the energy the audience lends is special,” he explains.
Especially so in India, feels Waclaw, where “the musicians are treated very special.
The audiences are into the raagas involved with their talas.”Musical takeawayWaclaw took Saagara back home to Poland.
Tune into his comfort zone and we hear the music man’s magic wands, the clarinet and algoza, which first filter into the senses and go on to gently tug at your heartstrings, drawing you dramatically, headlong into the ‘Stone Fog’, his new jazz album.
The drama is understated.
Waclaw’s meanderings between folk and classical traditions from the world over, with a fine aptitude for his classical roots, are definitive of his tuneful spirituality in his new album.