Not Two Records - Freeing jazz music, one gig at a time…


The city of Kraków, Poland is as far from Jazz Meccas of New York and Chicago as music of Polish-French composer Frédéric Chopin differs from free jazz improvisation.


So, it might come as a surprise, that one of the most creative forces in contemporary music of the 21st century made its home just here, in Kraków. We are taking about Not Two Records, an independent record label specializing in contemporary, improvised, free jazz; whose creative output and growing influence is incomparable to any other jazz outlet in the world today.


Not Two Records was created in 1998 by Marek Winiarski, a jazz aficionado with a degree in metallurgical engineering and an entrepreneurial spirit. Previously, Winiarski co-founded and ran one of Poland's first independent labels GOWI Records. After splitting off from his GOWI business partner and declining an offer from one the major international labels to run their operations in Poland, Winiarski decided to name his new outlet “Not Two”, to emphasize his need for independence and reliance on his own esthetic and free choices.


The new label began by releasing sessions by Polish musicians and soon captured a wide variety of the Polish jazz scene at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. All jazz genres were presented from mainstream to swing, from bop to jazz rock, and from traditional vocal jazz to more adventurous styles. After a few years the label's focus shifted, to better reflect the founder's personal taste and aesthetics. Since around 2002, Not Two has recorded and released almost exclusively avant-garde music.


At the end of 2020, Not Two's catalog covers over 300 releases on CD, DVD and vinyl, from more then 500 different artists. Thanks to the vision of its founder, who has always been interested in opening doors to new sounds and new artists, at the end of the second decade of the label’s existence, a host of the most significant contemporary jazz players have grace the Not Two catalog; including North and South American musicians, leading European improvisers, and some of the most progressive Japanese avant-garde artists.


With the jazz art form advancing and jazz artists exploring more elaborate forms of expression, Not Two widened its reach and made a deep commitment to document the whole process of creating avant-garde masterpieces through its “residency” programs, which consists of multi-days concert performances by the same musician(s), exploring and redefining their art in open and friendly environment. Released in 2005, the 12-CDs “Alchemia” box-set by Vandermark 5, is probably the best example of this new innovative approach, which encompassed all steps of the band's creative process, from testing and trying musical material, to experimenting with different rhythms, arrangements and styles, to connecting different musical ideas through collective improvisation, and ultimately combining it all into a final performance; all of which has been documented in real time. Ken Vandermark, who initially was very skeptical about the project, later admitted: "I consider the five night stand by Vandermark 5 at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland from March 15 -19, 2004, to be one of the highlights of my career".


After artistic and commercial success with the Alchemia box-set, Not Two continues to regularly releasing new box-sets from musicians like the American artist Ken Vandermark, Brit Barry Guy, and Swede Mats Gustafsson, and keeps pushing and expanding the frontiers of jazz idiom, the meaning of true avant-garde, and the new ways of capturing this live art form.


The best justification for this approach was described by the label's founder in his interview with “Down Beat" critic: “Live recordings are the most interesting and creative forms of music”. On other occasions, when asked about his own influence and contribution to the creative process of producing the label's releases, he shrugged: “Music is all that matters. I have no ambition to be “a producer”, it's a musician who is in charge, it's not my business to interfere or fix anything. All I like to do is help create new musical outlets for different artists' lineups, big and small. It doesn't always pay off, but it is always a risk worth taking“.


Besides music itself, unique artwork is an important element of Not Two's artistic identity and is always present in every Not Two's release. A progressive visualization complements the music; avant-garde and modern designs conquer imagination, emphasizing the message of the albums. Not Two fans also cherish the label's CD packaging for its resemblance to the mid-1960s gatefold vinyl albums, with similar means to include additional artwork, liner notes, etc. which would otherwise not have fit on standard CD covers.


In recent years the label endorsed digital distribution when continuing its focus on releasing elaborate, artwork rich tangible albums, with special attention to the renewed vinyl records market.


It might seem impossible for a mature, avant-garde jazz label to remain alive and relevant in a fast changing, global world of art, but as long as what's matters is music and artistic freedom, we should not worry about the future of Not Two Records. Their best years still seem to be ahead.


(NotTwo bio by Cezary Lerski, PolishJazz.com)

"My philosophy is very simple. I want to release music that I really like, even if I know from the very beginning that I lose money. I feel that especially important is mixing of musicians from various countries and traditions - there is always a chance to get great results."


Marek Winiarski, NotTwo founder

"When people ask me why Poland has had such a profound impact on my creative career, I think of nights like one in Gdansk - the music, the musicians, the audience, the experience shared.  My sincere thanks must go to Marek Winiarski, who, once again, made it all possible."


Ken Vandermark

"One of the most striking things about the releases on Not Two ... is the fact that they now come packaged in lavish five-inch gatefold cardboard sleeves, laminated and pasted together with crisp and often rather abstract graphics. These are some of the most striking and creative CD jackets ... inspired by Japanese CD covers, but with a clarity and presence all their own."

Clifford Allen, AllAboutJazz