Innercity Ensemble‘s II is a study in black and white, but in these improvisations the colors are not always what one might expect. Each entry comes across as a riff on a theme. The contrast yields to synthesis, much in the same way as a yin-yang symbol swirls opposing forces until they seem complimentary.
White is all colors together in light. White symbolizes purity, faith, redemption, transformation. The white dove, the white horse, the stars and the moon: all as white as a bride’s dress. But white can also connote blindness (white-out conditions), surrender (the white flag) and death (the pale rider).
Innercity Ensemble’s lovely video for “White 1” (seen below) grows out of light and develops into a meditation on color. Light and shade shift and mutate, focus and blur, like a stained glass forest. A bird cries among the trees; ritual chimes are struck. A lonely saxophone attempts to cut the fog; faces appear in the leaves. Ironically, the viewer begins to appreciate the black of outline: rose, stem, vein. The music exists in controlled chaos, waiting to burst forth. At the end, the instruments are drowned in a low drone, only to re-emerge from ripples on the subsequent track.
The White disc is the more active of the two discs, with wild percussion and unbridled horns. “White 2” is alive with synth squall and Morricone guitar, while “White 3” jumps head-first into melody and crunch. Each of the performers is given space to explore, the result of mutual respect between the participants. Innercity Ensemble is in fact billed as an “improvisational Polish supergroup”, and includes members of Stara Rzeka, HATI, Contemporary Jazz Quintet and Dwutysięczny. We would expect no less than total devotion. But to call this music jazz would be to short-change it; II is just as much post-rock or freeform rock improvisation, in its best moments creating a wall of sound akin to the extended live sets of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As the songs grow longer, so do the ethnic and trancelike elements; “White 4” sounds more like a Turkish bazaar than a Polish nightclub.
The choice to begin with white is noteworthy because it represents creation from chaos, the stars in the night sky, the ink on the page. As the band turns to black on the transition piece “White 5”, the sound grows measured and introspective. At first, this results in an energy dip, but after a few minutes the contrast seems wise.
Traditionally, black has been associated with darkness, death and depression, as well as with evil and sin. But it is also the color of repentance (priests’ robes) germination (the dark night of the soul) and the afterlife (Anubis). In clothing, black is slimming; in painting, black is strong. For an extensive study of the color black in art, we recommend John Harvey’s excellent 2013 study, The Story of Black.
The black disc takes up where the white disc left off: quiet, pensive, moody. A single strike of a bell sounds like a call to prayer. The early black tracks sound like night, mysterious and inviting, alluring yet not dangerous. Wordless chants inhabit the back end of “Black 1” like the introits of a choir. As the disc continues, it grows progressively more percussive, transforming the venue from smoky back room to crowded dance floor. This brings up one of the most intriguing associations of black as it pertains to darkness and inhibition; while people do dance in the light, they are more accustomed to doing so in the dark. And while one might pin associations of drunkenness and depravity on such proceedings, none of those are present here: instead, this is the revelry of friendship, the promise of romance, and the healthy imbibing that allows one to be one’s self. This impression is modeled first by the musicians, whose individual natures are celebrated throughout the recording. By the end, there is no more black and white, but nor is there grey; instead, there is (watch the hyphens) black-and-white, a single entity that protects individuality while cherishing the whole. (Richard Allen)
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