Borys Dejnarowicz – Divertimento

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Borys Dejnarowicz - Divertimento

The pseudo-minimalist compositions penned by Polish wunderkind Borys Dejnarowicz go down much easier than you might expect from a Steve Reich disciple. Gone are the 18 musicians, the phasing techniques, the plethora of hemiolas, and the esoteric connections to 12th century organum. Opting to strip away the academic muddle altogether, Dejnarowicz instead highlights the qualities of Reich’s style that made a piece like Music For 18 Musicians the towering achievement it was: an organic mixture of woodwinds, strings, mallet percussion, and wordless female vocals that create rippling and undulating layers of texture so velvety you can practically touch them. This may be a self-described attempt to “swim against the tide of crossover music” pervading Poland at the moment, but it thankfully lacks the pretentiousness and arrogance so common amongst albums with a bone to pick.

The album’s first track, titled quite literally as “Part I,” lays down the template by which the four remaining movements will operate. One by one over the span of several minutes, instruments gracefully establish themselves and then begin to extrapolate their ideas as additional layers subtly slip into the mix. For whatever predictability there might be with the harmonic or melodic ideas in this work, you have to hand it to Dejnarowicz and his team for their handiwork with the production and mixing process; the attention to detail is astounding.

The album opens with a single piano motif. At very consistent 30 second intervals, each of the remaining instruments enters the fold. After having been put into a trance with just four minutes gone by, Dejnarowicz finally initiates a chord change; it’s nothing spectacular, but having been in stasis for so long, it feels startling. By the movement’s middle point, things have achieved maximum momentum, as harmonized vocals (“Hah ah ah”) and sultry saxophones mingle with the piano and double bass that began it all 6 minutes earlier. But as the countermelodies and rhythms envelope each other, it becomes clear that what Dejnarowicz lacks in personnel, he makes up for in studio wizardry; the piece is saturated with overdubbed parts. At times the texture sounds thick enough that it might dupe the listener into thinking there are more than a dozen musicians, but there are in fact only eight. This is most likely the clearest separation from the work of Reich, who with few exceptions (Electric Counterpoint, performed by Pat Metheny, being one of them) has always enlisted the requisite number of musicians needed to pull off a piece without overdubs. Practically under hypnosis, the song gently fades under a blanket of cooed vocals and staccato strings.

“Part Two” opens with a pastoral guitar melody in the same way “Part One” did with the piano. The main difference is that, unlike the duple meter of the previous movement, the time signature has now shifted to a surprisingly comfortable 7/8. The process then begins to repeat itself: the musicians find their entry points amongst the swirling rhythms and extended harmonies. Despite the colorful orchestration and polished production, the track avoids hints of Muzak and Pat Metheny smooth jazz like its predecessor and more directly channels vintage Reich or even Terry Riley.

Though by the time “Part III” begins with a pulsating minor 7th on the piano (Is there any good reason I briefly find myself recalling Foreigner here?), the proceedings have become a bit cliché. Taking the repetitiousness of minimalism to new heights, Dejnarowicz has no new tricks to show off. The only unsettling moment left in the entire work comes in “Part Four,” where a solo glockenspiel plays a series of eerie minor 2nd intervals that bleed into one another. Even “Part Five” feels somewhat contrived, as it revisits the same material as the first movement, now just transposed up one half step.

Divertimento finds Dejnarowicz and his eight-member ensemble covering a lot of ground, albeit incredibly familiar. As such, the piece doesn’t exactly show the composer (who, unlike Reich, performed none of the instruments on the album) looking to push the genre’s envelope or explore any groundbreaking ideologies. At worst, it’s an 18 Musicians tribute album. At best, it’s an enjoyable and pleasant experience that, as Brian Eno once said, “is as ignorable as it is listenable.”