Boomkat Product Review:
A fantastical forest of ornate and uncanny instrumentation feature on prolific sound alchemist Piotr Kurek’s stunning new album, commissioned, curated and now issued by Unsound’s label division. It’s a sprawling, instrumental delight, overgrown with harp, woodwind and glassy FM bells, essential listening if you're into anything from Martyna Basta and Wojciech Rusin to Talk Talk or Pharoah Sanders.
Piotr Kurek's last album 'Peach Blossom' wowed us with its scientific (and charmingly absurd) study of the human voice. On 'Smartwoods', he opts for a far more painterly blend of baroque, early music, jazz and subtle, dreamworld electronics. Gradually, Kurek creates a contemporary fairytale; building imposing, but alluring ecosystems where natural and computer generated organisms happily coexist. It’s like a cunningly cerebral soundtrack to an AI-assisted Disney movie, hiding its wiring in thickets of familiar but enigmatic musical bracken.
Collaborating with harpist Anna Pašic, woodwind player Tomasz Duda and bassist Wojtek Traczyk, Kurek plays electric guitar and keyboards, mimicking Duda's seductive clarinet, sax and flute puffs with MIDI woodwind instruments. It's not entirely obvious which sounds come from where; Kurek's digital processes are clandestine, teasing the notes rather than blotting them out - a harp twang stretched out for longer than it should, or slapped into a screwed echo, or peculiar, rubbery vocals that appear so fleetingly you wonder if they were even there at all.
Kurek's skill lies in his ability to gently screw with familiar motifs in a way that’s hard to identify, so the music on ‘Smartwoods’ is ostensibly as lush as Pharoah Sanders in full bloom, and as evocative and quietly complex as Talk Talk’s ’Sprit of Eden’s improvised passages, sprouting ornate instrumental flourishes that only reveal their artificial components if you listen extremely closely. Here, double bass can suddenly wind through celestial harps, electrified horns bleat an unexpected punctuation, and ingenious digital sound design tears through time without leaving much more than the tiniest temporal ripple.