More and more concert DVD releases are popping up, these days. Mainstream prog acts like ELP, Yes, Rush and Saga now have several to their credit; entities like England's Classic Rock Productions mine yards and yards of archived '70s reels by less proclaimed acts and and dust them off for delivery by the digital stork. When groups like Ekseption, Atomic Rooster, Gong and Sky suddenly have DVDs circulating with their logos on them, somebody's doing something right. We can finally scratch Polish progsters SBB off of the list: CD-Silesia (does that word sound familiar?) has issued Szczęśliwi Z Miasta N., a DVD of SBB's eighty-minute "Jazz Jamboree '79" concert at the Sala Kongresowa in Warsaw. SBB fans are going to require a fresh change of Levi's because this video of a great, often overlooked band pulls no punches. This is a professional shoot with no quick cuts and generous time afforded to each player, not to mention numerous close-ups of keyboards, frets, percussion, and the fingers that manipulate them. The sound is crisp, with few fluctuations and a bit of distortion at the very beginning, and it isn't hi-fi, but that won't matter if your speakers do their job properly.
With their beginnings as members of the Silesian Blues Band, multi-keyboardist Józef Skrzek (who was actually the bassist/vocalist), guitarist Apostolis Anthimos and drummer Jerzy Piotrowski elected to explore the vastness of "spacefusion" territories. The name was simplified to SBB, but their motives were anything but simple: "SBB" meant "Search, Break, Build," wherein they sought to destruct the musical styles they'd previously indulged in, along with new ones, and reconstruct them into new wholes and hybrid forms. Comparisons to Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra sans violin are a bit off; SBB sounds like a more daring version of Floyd (with better drumming) with elements of Gong, Carpe Diem and other European '70s proggers. That's just an attempt to generalize, as SBB really is a band with a sound of its own. The trio became a quartet with the addition of second guitarist Sławomir Piwowar in time for the Jazz Jamboree concert and the oddly-titled 1980 album, Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem ("Memento With A Banal Triptych").
The concert opens with the quasi-funky "Moja Ziemio Wyśniona" — also the first track that would open the aforementioned …Tryptykiem. Apostolis ogles his counterpart's fretwork, but his demeanor is misleading because this is a very rehearsed outfit at work. Jerzy's airtight, in-the-pocket drumming is the jumping board for the superb melodic tapestries that Skrzek and Apostolis weave. Sławomir fits perfectly as a foil for Apostolis, supplying rock-steady strumming and textural boosts aplenty, as well as leads — a real team player. Józef doesn't pick up a bass during this show, playing all of the basslines with his left hand on a Hohner Clavinet D6, the machine's bottom end and punchy tone ably supplanting bass strings. Józef 's left hand spends a lot of time on the Clavinet, while his right hand is most frequently situated on either the Polymoog to his right, or the Minimoog above it. His hands dart often to the Fender Rhodes below the Clav, and occasionally to the Micromoog and Davoli Davolisint (a less common, three-octave monophonic synth with two VCO's — voltage-controlled oscillators) situated above it. To Józef 's left is the stark blue upright face panel of the Sonic VI. SBB's music is predominantly instrumental, but Skrzek's pleasant, midrange voice does figure into the scheme here and there. After a short monologue and introduction by the emcee, the band kicks things back into gear with the epic title track from Ze Słowem Biegne Do Ciebie ("With A Word I'm Running To You"). One of their very best compositions, this performance probably exceeds the album version, with soft Rhodes intervals and guitars gently reverberating throughout the domed venue. The dreamy vibe gives way to the galloping thunder of phased Clav bass and Rhodes rhythms topped by a long, sumptuous solo by Apostolis that would've had Carlos Santana taking notes.
Next, SBB goes unplugged with the lovely "Szczęśliwi Z Miasta N." — Józef sits at a grand piano, Apostolis picks up a bouzouki, and Sławomir gently picks an acoustic guitar (unfortunately, he's practically inaudible). Then it's back to electricity with all thirty minutes (!) of the suite "Going Away" (pun intended). Undulating curtains of Polymoog texture and shimmering cymbals open this movement, which features vocals in English. The "Żywiec Mountain Melody" and the epilogue, "Loneliness Theme," are my favorite subsections; "Theme" is entirely by Skrzek, several minutes of layered Moog and Clavinet sonics meshing into a not-too-somber ode. The last fourteen minutes of the show is an improv jam with a swell Jan Hammer-esque Minimoog solo.
No shortage of DVD extras (see below); how cool is the black and white footage of SBB performing "Blysk" (from 1974's Nowy Horyzont, or New Horizon) — with Skrzek playing his bass and Davolisint at the same time. The downside is that it's only eighty seconds long. All text and audio is in Polish, but fluency is not required to enjoy this! Though this is a PAL format DVD, DVD-ROM drives can play it and so do some NTSC players. Otherwise, investing in an all-region player is a good investment because quite a few Region 2 and Region 3 music DVDs are showing up.
1. Moja Ziemio Wyśniona (Wish) (8:25)
2. Ze Słowem Biegne Do Ciebie (21:41)
3. Szczęśliwi Z Miasta N. (5:26)
4. Going Away: [30:49]
– Freedom With Us (7:15)
– 3rd Reanimation (5:55)
– Going Away (9:48)
– Żywiec Mountain Melody (5:04)
– Loneliness Theme (2:47)
5. Improv (14:16)
— Bonus Materials —
*Józef Skrzek [2004 interview]
*Promoclip: "Why No Peace" – teledysk (2003)
*Promoclip: "Błysk" (SBB A.D. 1974)
*Release party: SBB — Wizje (2003)
Total time – ±110min.