Guitarist Alex Roth was born in Detroit, and he is a London-raised descendant of Polish Jews and part of the British experimental music scene. In 2018 he got a British Council-supported residency at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków. He wanted to use field recordings and form a new trio with Polish musicians – clarinetist and electronics player Wacław Zimpel and drummer Hubert Zemler.
Roth collected field recordings around Poland and Ukraine – neglected cemeteries, forgotten monuments, former ghetto districts reclaimed by ever-evolving cities, and planned to compose a suite in response to these recordings, as the basis for the trio’s set. He soon realized that he did not need to write any music for this trio. «Without a word of discussion, the music I’d been imagining for the past year was just happening, totally organically. It felt like coming home», Roth said. The trio performed in Kraków and London and used the field recordings for extended improvisations but the recording was postponed until May 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The title of the trio is taken from a sentence in the English translation of Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz’s book The Street of Crocodiles. Esz Kodesz (the Polish transliteration of the Hebrew phrase of sacred fire) was recorded at Dwa Domy studio outside Warsaw. The field recordings were integrated only in post-production, but the titles of the pieces included the names of cities the trio has played in, or places Roth made field recordings.
Esz Kodesz offers a highly immersive listening experience. The music flows freely between free jazz, post-rock and ambient terrains as Cut The Sky takes an idea and develops it, organically and methodically, at times almost imperceptibly, to its lyrical and soulful climaxes, before fading gracefully. Often you may feel that you are drawn into an intimate, mysterious and hypnotic sonic ritual that unifies the trio but is interpreted differently in each piece. The album closer «Lord, Have Mercy» is a hymn from the Ukrainian liturgy, which Roth arranged for Zimpels’ multiple clarinets, with a field recording he made outside the Latin Cathedral in Lviv in 2019. It is, obviously, a gesture of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and a perfect conclusion to the most humane spirit of Esz Kodesz, and its emotional power to unify close and far personal and ancestral histories.
Alex Roth (guitar, effects), Wacław Zimpel Zimpel (clarinets, electronics), Hubert Zemler (drums)