ABOUT NOT TWO RECORDS
Polish Not Two Label Ignores Tides to Steer Avant-Garde Course
When it comes to jazz, Marek Winiarski has never worried about the odds. Back in 1982 in Krakow, when the Iron Curtain still darkened Poland, the rabid fan decided to open a record shop. As he said, "The problem wasn't to sell something, the problem was to get goods to sell." Addicted to jazz since first attending the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree in 1972, he had developed an international network of contacts, and through such connections he was able to stock his shop with records never before available in the country.
Of course, Poland is free now, but the jazz business remains something of an enemy of capitalism, as putting out jazz recordings isn't a good way to make money. Winiarski's label Not Two, which he formed in 1998, has emerged as one of the most adventurous and reliable outlets for avant-garde jazz, with releases by the likes of Matthew Shipp, Joe Morris, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Anthony Braxton and Gebhard Ullmann.
"If one doesn't have ambitions to be a millionaire running an avant-garde label, everything is much easier”, Winiarski said.
"You lose money with one title, earn some with another, but all of the time you're just trying to follow your passion. As long as nobody subsidizes you, nobody can press you. That's freedom."
Winiarski started his first label GOWI with his friend, jazz drummer Zdzislaw Gogulski in 1988. They licensed an Art Blakey recording to get started, and before long they were producing new albums by visiting artists like David Murray, Chick Corea and Joey Calderazzo with Polish backing bands. But the young label's greatest success came from recordings made by the Krakow band Milosc, which featured the fiery saxophonist Mikołaj Trzaska. When Gogulski declined to get involved with CD production, Winiarski launched the new imprint, taking its title from a Miłość album cut with Lester Bowie. He also notes that the label name reflects that he was no longer in a partnership.
While early Not Two releases were focused on local talent – including two albums by the Simple Acoustic Trio, now better known as ECM artists the Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Winiarski soon gravitated toward an international roster of envelope-pushers. Among his most fruitful and significant relationships is with Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark. Working with the Krakow jazz club Alchemia, he proposed that a five-night stint by the Vandermark 5 be recorded in its entirety and released as a boxed set “When I first talked to Ken about releasing all of the material in a 12·CD box, he said I was totally crazy, said Winiarski. "My idea was to show the band rehearsing, playing, jamming – 10 sets plus some jam sessions."
For his part, Vandermark values the relationship. The label has released the new Vandermark 5 album Annular Gift, and in October the label is issuing another box set, chronicling Vandermark's large band Resonance Project which Winiarski helped organize.
“Working with Marek is a pleasure because he puts the music and the musicians first”, Vandermark said. "Any time I've indicated what I want to do artistically he has backed my decisions without hesitating, and his trust in me has made it easy to trust him."
(text by Peter Margasak, Down Beat Magazine, October 2009)
Not Two Records - Freeing jazz music, one gig at a time…
The city of Kraków, Poland is as far from the Jazz Meccas of New York and Chicago as the 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 talking 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 of 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 aesthetic 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 beginning of 2022, Not Two's catalog covers over 300 releases on CD, DVD and vinyl, from more than 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 graced 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-day concert performances by the same musician(s), exploring and redefining their art in an 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 release new box-sets from musicians like the American artists Ken Vandermark, Steve Swell or Joe McPhee, 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 a “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 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 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.
(text by Cezary (Chazz) 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."
"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