Jacaszek: Pentral

If the sensibility of Michal Jacaszek's debut release, Treny, suggested a kinship with the mournful classical music of Henryk Górecki, then Jacaszek's follow-up Pentral (Latin for “inside, spirit, temple”) has more in common with the music of Giya Kancheli, a Georgian composer who's sometimes categorized as a “holy minimalist” along with Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. Why? Because the most memorable thing about Pentral is its abrupt, almost violent dynamic shift between micro-sound and volcanic episodes, something for which Kancheli is also well known. Following the relative calm of “I,” for example, where intertwining organ smears quietly emerge, “II” explodes with a jarring eruption of fortissimo organ chords before likewise retreating into a cocoon of warm chords and tinkling bell tones. In “VI,” the pulverizing switch from subdued dungeon textures and the high-pitched angelic voice of Stefan Cejrowski to organ blasts is jarring in the extreme. The “holy” dimension is also obviously felt in the concept driving Pentral, specifically Jacaszek's desire to aurally capture the unique, reverberant acoustics of a gothic church interior. To do so, he spent several days during the summer of 2008 in three Gdansk historic churches (Oliwa Cathedral, St Nicholas Church, St. Mary's Basilica) where he recorded the vocals of a small number of singers, organs, and myriad other noises, the sum total of which were then subjected to retouching in the post-production process.

At thirty-six minutes, the ten-part Pentral makes its case succinctly and with admirable economy (only three of the ten pieces exceed four minutes); to his credit, Jacaszek is able to conjure powerful mini-universes of mood in less than three minutes. If the new work is less endearing than Treny, it's due to Pentral's focus on mood, atmosphere, and dynamic contrasts; the earlier album's emphasis on melody renders it the more inviting of the two whereas the new work is austere by comparison and in the quieter passages more reserved and introverted. Even so, the new album remains a nevertheless fascinating example of textural moodscaping (“V,” with its seamless, meditative web of percussive knocks, organ tones, and textural atmosphere, a case in point) and the aforementioned dynamic contrasts don't occur in every track. In “III,” gentle organ chords intone against restless background textures while choral voices (Maja Sieminska, Lena Majewska, Aleksandra Kisiel-Zawada, Stefan Wesolowski) add wordless warmth. In “IV,” soft percussion tinkles and soft organ tones escalate in intensity alongside an almost subliminal vocal presence (Maja Sieminska), so faint it verges on ghostly. Moments of sunlight are leavened by the percussion- and piano-heavy gloom of “IX” and the dungeon-ready “VII.” Pentral, a fascinating project even if it's the less accessible of Jacaszek's two releases, is available in two formats, the standard CD and as a DVD featuring a surround sound mix plus a documentary, “Pentral - the sound of the interior,” by Antek Gryzbek.

July 2009