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No. 133 June 2015

Niemen
NIEMEN,
or the Red album,
or Człowiek jam niewdzięczny

TIMES

Style of the work of Czesław Niemen is very heterogenic. It covers big-beat, progressive work, rock with jazz elements, blues-rock, avant-garde, and electronic music – you will find all these elements in his works. The period from 1967, the year of his debut album Dziwny jest ten świat… till 2001 was the most interesting period in popular music's history, most ambitious projects were created then. Niemen tried out all the music genres that were interesting for him, and he was good in each of them, in my opinion of course. One could call his a word-class artist, but he did not have to compare himself to any other world artist as he created his very own world of music (more about Dziwny jest ten świat… in article 75 lat | 10 lat).

After the first period, that began with his debut album and ended with a retrospective Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz (1968), during which he worked with Akwarele group, he decided to change his repertoire completely. This change involved also choosing different group of accompanying musicians. Tomasz Jaśkiewicz, „Niemen's guitarist”, said: „it was obvious that we let all those achievements like Dziwny jest ten świat, Sen o Warszawie behind. We were going in the new direction. These were the times of fast changes around us, world was changing, modernizing. Czesław knew that earlier than others and so he started to work with several jazzman”. (Tomasz Jaśkiewicz, Witold Górka, Byłem gitarzystą Niemena, Warsaw 2014, p. 166-167).

NIEMEN

Two albums from this period, called Niemen Enigmatic (from the name of group he worked with), the 1969 Niemen Enigmatic, also known as Wiersze (Poems), with Norwid, Asnyk, Kubiak, Przerwa-Tetmajer poems, and 1971 Niemen, also known as the Czerwony album (Red album - from the color of its cover) or Człowiek jam niewdzięczny (from the title of the first track), presented a brand new face of the artist.

Music on these albums combines progressive rock with jazz. Dariusz Michalski in his monograph Trzysta tysięcy gitar nam gra calls this period „a poetry period”. Today we would hardly classify these songs as “poetry”, as today this expression is associated with actual poetry sang, accompanied by guitar, or some other acoustic instruments. According to today's definition text is the key element and music plays only an auxiliary role. On both Niemen's records text played an equally important role with a progressive music that actually drove each song. So usage of actual poems from actual poets is not enough to call this period a “poetry” one.

The first of these two albums, Niemen Enigmatic, is in my opinion, the best album Niemen ever recorded. It's always been on my private “best Polish album of all times” list among the top five, as well as in the top five of “the best world rock albums”. The album achieved the “gold” status, it was highly praised by part of the artistic environment (some journalist, of course, criticized Niemen no matter what he did – these were times of communist regime after all), it was “blessed” by Wojciech Młynarski, a man, who supposedly came up with the idea for this album, and finally there was this remarkable track - Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod with C.K. Norwid's text – all these elements led to a great success of this highly acclaimed album. Outside Poland this album was also released in Czechoslovakia by Supraphon in 1970.

NIEMEN

Album, accompanied by a single Italiam, Italiam (Polskie Nagrania MUZA  SP 380, 1971), that from its cover's color was also called “Red”, was not so successful. The artist himself felt ambivalent about it. In a booklet, that was attached to the 2002 Polskie Radio “box” edition Niemen od początku I, he wrote:

The double album, called by many „red”, hopefully because of its cover's color and not because people believed that I should be ashamed of it, was a real breakthrough in my carrier despite its minor defects. Jacek Mikuła turned out to be a great addition to our band, he was a true master of Hammonds. Janusz Zieliński's bass was getting better and better, more distinct. Tomek Jaśkiewicz turned out to be a very talented composer („Zechcesz mnie zechcesz” and „Muzyko moja” with Wojciech Młynarski's text). […], a new percussion star arose – Janusz Stefański, who agreed to play with us on this album. By the end of January 1971 all the recordings for the album were ready. I have to mention that I managed to realize one of my own dreams, that I could have had never quite realized before, about participation of a female choir – in this case with a fantastic leading voice of Krystyna Prońko, that added a lot of color to this music…

Czesław Niemen [w:] Niemen od początku I, Polskie Radio PRCD 331-336, 6 x CD (2002).

It seems that a lot of time had to pass before Niemen started to appreciate this album, and recognize it as his own great achievement. Still in 1997 during interview conducted by Wiesław Królikowski, chief editor of „Tylko Rock” magazine (today „Teraz Rock”), when answering a question about on opening piece, about if there is something he was ashamed of, he answered:

Sound quality [of this album] was no so good. I planned the vocal part differently. It sounded better during live performances... This part with musicians improvisations is too long... I'm not a great fan of this album at all. There are some things that could be done in a better way, that could be improved. In „Nie jesteś moja“ a key seems half a step too high. That's why there were some issues with choir, that sounded false. We tried to fix it at the console...

Wiesław Królikowski, Czesław Niemen: przekora uniwersalna, „Tylko Rock”, 1 kwietnia 1997, czytaj TUTAJ

For me, in many ways that's one of the most interesting albums of Czesław Niemen. I simply like it a lot. But I think it is also quite unique objectively speaking. It was the first Polish “popular music” double album. Possibly even the first double album in the history of Polish music industry. I base my theory on the way this first issue was made. It sported a „clap” type cover, with two envelopes, literally, glued together. It was a lousy, non-practical solution. The records could be placed in envelopes from the inside of the cover (not from outside as in most albums) so the “clap” cover had to degrade quickly.

An interesting fact – Grzegorz Hajduk, an author of a very good text included in the insert of the latest, digital remaster of this album, did not understood the word „clap” as a part of a cover that closes the box, as he wrote:

The first issue had both discs placed on the right side of the envelope, separated with a “clap”, the second issue was already a “typical” album with discs being placed in both parts of the cover.

Grzegorz Hajduk, Pod latyńskich żagli cieniem…, p. 10 [w:] Niemen, Niemen, Polskie Nagrania PNCD 1574 A/B, 2014.

A new additional print of the album was made with a gatefold cover, meaning a one that opens like a book, and both discs were inserted in two “wings” of the cover. The first issue was released in two versions: mono and stereo, with catalog numbers, respectively - XL 0710/0711 and SXL 0710/0711. After the cover was corrected only a stereo version was released. But the cover still held both catalog numbers. So to inform buyers that it was a stereo version, not a mono one, they added a separate sticker that said: „STEREO”. But they didn't do it for all copies so one could find both (stereo) versions – with and without additional sticker. Later the version with a red label carried only a stereo catalog number. Label on the first release for both, stereo and mono versions, was blue.

Lets clear one thing out here: an author of Katalog Polskich Płyt Gramofonowych shared an information that „one could find one of two versions of album in shops: as two separate records (the first  0710, the second 0711) and as a double album (0710/0711) (see HERE). Unfortunately I wasn't able to confirm this information. I did not find even one album with a single record. So it seems that Tadeusz Skliński was right. He wrote in Niemen's discography, that „both records were sold as a set” (Tadeusz Skliński, Niemen – dyskografia, fakty, twórczość, Warsaw 2006, p. 97).

The cover of Niemen album was quite unique on Polish market. It was designed by Marian Sanecki. There is no writing on the front but only Niemen's black photo on a red background (Wiesław Królikowski said that initially it was supposed to be black on white). Everybody who saw the record knew instantly who's album was it, and yet today alternative names for this album are very popular. It seems that even the artist himself wasn't sure how to approach this issue, as he accepted Polish Radio's decision, that for the “box” issue used title Człowiek jam niewdzięczny, which was a title of an opening piece. Also the author of above mentioned Katalog… obviously had a problem with the title of this album, as he wrote: „it was difficult to determine a title of this album, as it wasn't written on the cover”. Authors of „PearlsOfRock.pl” blog took it even one step further, calling it the Niemen Enigmatic 2 (see HERE). Confusion becomes more understandable when one reads on the cover: Niemen Enigmatic.

Taking all that into consideration I suggest the simplest, most logical solution: it is an album by ‘Niemen’, meaning ‘Czesław Niemen’ (as time for Niemen Group didn't come just yet). According to rules, considering that the only writing on the cover is the name of an artist, this name becomes also a name of the album, hence this double album should be called: Niemen.

There is a technical issue that is also important to us, related to the latest release, known under common name Remaster 2014. We already known that the name is not up-to-date, as next releases are coming out in 2015, but Niemen was actually released still in 2014. It was the first album of this series. The person responsible for remastering of this series is Ms Eleonora Atalay, daughter of Czesław Niemen.

As you may remember, the first four albums and two Eps, were transferred from analogue tapes (master tapes) to digital domain by Jacek Gawłowski (Grammy winner) in his mastering studio JG Master Lab. Mr Jacek, as he described it in the article about Dziwny…, was responsible for initial and final mastering. He cooperated with Ms Atalay, who worked on renovation of original material, removing noise, distortion and so on. Niemen is the first album transferred to digital domain by Mr Jacek, and remastered exclusively by Ms Atalay. Why, what changed? – Well, we don't really know… Answering some of our questions Mr Jacek send us also some images of master tapes with Niemen's music. I've never seen these images before – Readers of “High Fidelity” are the first people, apart from those who work in the mastering studio, who have a chance to see these photos.


JACEK GAWŁOWSKI
Sound engineer

Studer A80 from 1970ties, used by Mr Jacek in process of analogue tapes digitalization, including Czesław Niemen's discography. Laying on Studer you can see a master tape with “four” Sen o Warszawie.

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Mr Jacek, could you tell us which albums did you master together with Ms Eleonora?
JACEK GAWŁOWSKI: I was responsible for the transfer of all master tapes with Niemen's albums to a digital domain. But I remastered only: Dziwny jest ten świat…, Sukces, Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz and „four” Sen o Warszawie.

What particular tapes were the master tapes? And to which particular digital format did you transfer them?
All tapes are classic production ¼ inch tapes. I used Studer A80 from 1970ties to play them. I used fantastic A/D converters, Apogee Symphony to convert signal. For digital files I chose to use 88,2 kHz sampling frequency, as it later could be more effectively converted to a CD standard - 44,1 kHz.

A box with master tape of „four” Sen o Warszawie.

How did the process of mastering look like?
Mastering was done completely in digital domain using top quality devices from Weiss. Such an approach was chosen as I wanted as transparent and as noninvasive processing as possible. Original recording was already very “analogue”. Material for first four albums and the „four” after my remaster was sent to Ms Eleonora who removed noise from it. All other albums were remastered exclusively by Ms Eleonora.

One of the master tapes of 1969 Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz? album, including a title piece and ending with Ach, jakie oczy. It's the same type of tape as with Dziwny…

What do you mean: very “analogue”?
I mean that the old recordings were made on tape, using tube equipment, so they were rich with harmonics, and the sound was very organic. Such recordings have to be remastered in a very transparent way, leaving a harmonic structure untouched. One should never introduce new harmonics, as people remember original recordings very well. Hence – my approach.

One more thing – are these tapes in a good shape?
These are tapes that were used to cut a matrix, and they are in a good shape.

One of master tapes for Dziwny jest ten świat…, with pieces from a title one, till Chyba, że mnie pocałujesz. Each record side is recorded on a separate tape. Recordings were done on Agfa PER 555 tape in Studio 12, with 38 cm/s speed. Recording was completed during one day!


TRACK LIST

LP XL/SXL 0710

Side A
1. Człowiek jam niewdzięczny (C. Niemen)

Side B
1. Aerumnarum Plenus (C. Niemen/C.K. Norwid )
2. Italiam, Italiam (C. Niemen/C.K. Norwid)
3. Enigmatyczne Impresje (J. Mikuła)

LP XL/SXL 0711

Side A
1. Nie jesteś moja (C. Niemen)
2. Wróć jeszcze dziś (C. Niemen/W. Młynarski)
3. Mój pejzaż (C. Niemen/M. Bellan)

Side B
1. Sprzedaj mnie wiatrowi (Z. Namysłowski/M. Groński)
2. Zechcesz mnie zechcesz (T. Jaśkiewicz/W. Młynarski)
3. Chwila ciszy (C. Niemen/W. Młynarski)
4. Muzyko moja (T. Jaśkiewicz/W. Młynarski)

Recordings for the first record, XL/SXL 0710, were done in Polskie Nagrania studio in Warsaw, on Dec. 18, 19, 21-24 and 28th 1970.

Members of Enigmatic group, apart from Czesław  Niemen were: 
Czesław Bartkowski – drums (before he played for Zbigniew Namysłowski quartet) 
Tomasz Jaśkiewicz – guitar  (ex-Relaks, ex-Chochoły, he worked with Niemen since 1966, also in Akwarele band)
Jacek Mikuła - Hammonds (ex-Metrum, ex-Old Timers, member of  Niemen Enigmatic since summer 1970)
Janusz Zieliński – bass guitar (ex-Zbigniew Namysłowski band, ex-Akwarele, ex-Piotr Puławski group)

A female choir supported Niemen when he recorded the first album, with: Krystyna Prońko (ex-Refleks, ex-Respekt), Zofia Borca (ex-Elżbietki, ex-Respekt ), and Ewa Linkowska (ex-Elżbietki, ex-Respekt ).

As one can read in the insert for the digital version, material for the second record, the XL/SXL 0711, was recorded on Jan. 4-9, 11, 13, 15 and 21st 1971 with some changes in the band. Zbigniew Namysłowski (flute) played on a piece he wrote, and Janusz Stefański (drums), replaced Czesław Bartkowski. Vocal parts were performed by a group Partita. The album was released in March 1971.

SOUND

Why would anybody even do re-issues? There are two reasons, equally important, equally reasonable. To make money - for the second, third, fourth time selling the same music, and/or for a better sound – to retrieve even more music from original tapes, to create a new version even closer to the original recording.

The second reason is particularly interesting. Vinyl and digital re-issues have different purposes. The former are supposed to bring back the music, to make it available for those who can't afford to buy very expensive first pressings with their favorite music. It happens extremely rarely that a new re-issue offers even better sound quality than an original. It is possible only if the first pressing included some defects. All other re-issues are just derivatives even if released by such perfectionists as people from Analogue Productions, Audio Fidelity or Mobile Fidelity.

It works differently for CDs – most people believe that a pinnacle of analogue happened during 1950ties, while a digital technology still evolves, improves even today. Mostly because mastering engineers today better understand weaknesses of digital format and know how to counteract them, but also due to better CD Players, and fantastic new formats like: K2HD, XRCD, HQCD, Blu-spec CD2, SHM-CD and last but least, the best of them all, the Platinum SHM-CD. So the purpose of the new re-issues is surely a better sound quality, even better than original release.

Below you can read about the changes between first analogue edition from 1971 and the last one from 2014, and between first digital issue from 1992 and the latest from 2014.

REMASTER 2014 in „High Fidelity”

DZIWNY JEST TEN ŚWIAT… - Polish version HERE, English version HERE, a version published by „Positive-Feedback Online” magazine HERE
SUKCES, CZY MNIE JESZCZE PAMIĘTASZ - Polish version HERE, version in „MusicToThePeople.pl” HERE

LONG PLAY

I've counted 6 vinyl releases, including first issue with mono and stereo versions. Versions differ with their covers, label color, and above all, with the sound quality.

I have a version, that I do not know how to treat: the label on the record is red with printing on it and catalog number: XL 0710/0711. But cover holds the new Polskie Nagrania logo (the rectangular one, with a record), and the catalog number on the cover says: SH 0710/0711. My guess – this is an export version with a cover that is much thicker than in “regular” version, also with “high gloss” finish, same as the original, first edition. As you're about to find out it also offers a bit better sound quality than a regular “SX” version. All that tells me that it could be an export version, as during those times products prepared for export usually offered higher quality than those for domestic market.

I listened to all records using few turntables, cartridges and phonostages. But the key comparisons were conducted with Acoustic Signature Triple X with Reed 3 tonearm and Miyajima Labs Madake cartridge and with Air Force Two with Schroeder CB and ZYX Ω Premium DIAmond X.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA XL 0710-711

First edition, March 1971, BLUE LABEL, „clap” cover, MONO

No one knows how a material for this edition was prepared: was it mixed from a multi-track tape, or from a stereo version? What is important is that this is a different interpretation of the same material with some elements presented in a different way than the stereo version. One thing is almost certain, that separate master-tapes for mono and stereo versions exist.

Volume level of this material is 3-4 dB higher than regular. It creates an impression of a larger sound scale. But also presence of instruments and their attack seem significantly bigger, more powerful. The Hammonds finally sound properly aggressive, and drums create a rhythm line together with bass, that in stereo version sounded boxy with bass pushed forward.

Niemen's vocal also sounds differently – it is more open, more dynamic. Also reverb seems pitched higher. Voice seems to be bit more aggressive, has more power and it is more “forward”. Same goes for instruments. A bass guitar playing solo mid Człowiek… sounds more lively, its upper part seems more audible.

When it comes to progressive music some prefer mono versions, others prefer stereo ones. I personally think that with progressive music there are more good sounding stereo versions, so I usually pick this one over mono. But it is a different story with Niemen album. The mono version of 1971 outperforms stereo one, in my opinion, it sounds more accurate, more “right” as it brings more emotional involvement.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA SXL 0710-711

First edition, March 1971, BLUE LABEL, „clap” cover, STEREO

Sound on this album is spectacular, surprisingly good to be exact. I know that it is the previous album that should be praised most of all, and yet for me it is this album that is a quintessence of what Niemen Enigmatic band was and what it could have become, if only Niemen hadn't quit this project and turned his eyes on something else.

Soundstage on this record is quite impressive, which is something that didn't happen often on Polish records. Position of each instrument in the mid-part of the opening track was clearly, selectively delivered. I could hear Hammonds, for example, from way outside my left speaker. This part of album offers a palpable, multi-dimensional, dense presentation.

The important part is that music has quite a punch, and is easy to listen to. Also dynamic aspects surprise listener from time to time when one can clearly hear a distinct bass, snare drum or a kick drum. One can also clearly hear that both range extremes are rolled off, especially treble. You can hear that while listening to Niemen's vocal that is not as open as it should be, or to quite dull bass. The latter also needs proper treble propagation, for higher harmonics, to sound naturally. On the other hand female vocals on the first record sound really nice. They are also nicely “rendered” in space.

The reverb added to Niemen's voice is very clean, properly long and rich. Its deep tone nicely supports vocal adding some volume to it. There is no emphasis on sibilants in vocalist's voice. Tone of drums also seem “open”, with powerful, rich cymbals. They are not particularly resolving, but I guess it was not the point here. Kick drum seems a bit lifeless, and it is bass that takes its place in keeping the rhythm going.

An average volume level of the “blue” stereo version seems to be 3-4 dB higher than on all other (except for 2014 Remaster) releases. Despite common believe “louder” doesn't mean “better”. Higher volume level of consecutive releases mean higher compression level. The original stereo issue seems to be pressed with original dynamics.

A cover for the first release is made of a thick cardboard and finished with a high gloss lacquer. All others, except the one marked as “SH”, sport a matte finish, and are made of thinner cardboard. The mono version of the first release sports a brown Polskie Nagrania logo on the back side of the cover. An interesting fact – inside, next to the track list, both versions, mono and stereo, are marked as „XL”, which is a marking of mono version only. They fixed this error for the second release and used „SXL” marking instead. There was an additional „Stereo” sticker on some copies.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA SXL 0710-711

Second edition, 1971, BLUE LABEL, „gatefold” cover, STEREO

Records are placed in both parts of a double album cover, which makes taking records out and putting them in much easier. Soundwise this edition seems identical with the first one (the „clap” one) – obviously both editions were pressed either at the same time or at least using the same matrix, and the only element that changed was the cover. There is only one mark in logo that says: „SXL”.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA XL 0710-711

Third edition, RED LABEL/BLACK PRINT, „gatefold” cover, STEREO

Volume level of this edition is the same as of the first mono version from 1971, which means around 4 dB higher than the one of the first stereo version (and also of its second edition). Soundwise is it a very good version, unlike in case of a debut album, where the first edition was much better than any following. Here there are some small differences in details. These, put together, result in a different quality. But the difference is not particularly significant, it is just a small step back.

It seems that treble is bit less present in the recording, also dynamics seems to suffer a bit. Sound seems more “closed”. I would say that this edition offers lesser resolution, as some details; like sound of bass, or backing vocals, are not so distinct. Niemen's voice seems bit more open than on original edition, but also a bit more “plastic”, with less contour. Drums sound bit more “boxy” too.

This description might create quite poor impression, but don't worry – unless you can compare this edition with original, you won't have reasons to complain. So if you have this one – there is no reason to look for other version. Unless you're a perfectionist of course, then look for the first, mono edition.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA XL 0710-711

Fourth edition, RED LABEL/SILVER PRINT, „gatefold” cover, STEREO

It is very difficult to distinguish this version from the one with black print. These small differences that I was able to find could have come from differences between following matrices – the more copies are pressed from a single matrix the lesser quality copies. I would qualify sound still as very good with bit smaller tonal scale, and not as spatial as original. This particular copy of the record sounded cleaner and more coherent than both copies with black print which made listening more pleasant. I felt more involved in music.

But, as I already mentioned, these differences were so tiny that they could have come from “technical” differences between copies. I wouldn't be surprised if both editions, the one with red label and black print and the one with silver print, actually came from the same pressing.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA XL 0710-711

Fifth edition, YELLOW LABEL, „gatefold” cover, STEREO

This re-issue comes from 1979. It's by far the worst version of this album. The edition with red label differed from original, but these differences were not that big – both editions had more in common than differed from each other, but this one is surely much worse. The biggest issue – it is much more noisy, as if the material was taken from some copy of original tape, or from a very poor, degraded copy tape. It seems also that they used vinyl of lesser quality. Sound is not as resolving as in original. Some instruments deliver powerful performance, but Hammonds, for example, in an opening piece, that is usually placed bit behind, here it was placed even further back. I don't recommend this edition.



Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA SXL 0710-711

Sixth edition – REMASTER 2014, BLUE LABEL, „gatefold” cover, STEREO

“Nothing happens twice”, or so they say. Obviously it is possible after all. In my review of Niemen's debut album I wrote, how the material for vinyl edition was prepared (it wasn't actually, they used the same material they prepared for a CD release) and that they pressed records using a digital 16/44 file as a source. I found out that Czech pressing company had little time to complete the order so they didn't even do any test pressing. There could be but one result – poor sound quality.

Issues with vinyl re-issue of Niemen have to be similar with those of Dziwny jest ten świat…. Sound lacks dynamics, richness – it's like lot of information about both, attack and decay phase of each sound were gone. Tonal balance seems shifted up comparing with first pressing, which results in cutting bass extension short (which is bad, of course), but on the other hand presentation seems more open (which is good).

Corrections introduced by Ms Eleonora Atalay while “cleaning” master tape, translated in more settled sound – it is really clean, settled presentation. But it also lacks richness of the sound known from the first three editions. Version no. 4 is much worse, more noisy and it equally lacks dynamics. But both “red” versions, not to mention the “blue” one, offer much richer sound, more three-dimensional voices, much wider soundstage, and much, much better dynamics.

The average volume level is the same as on the first stereo version, which I find quite interesting. It's like going back to the roots, to the original version. If you're going to conduct your own comparisons you should remember about that and push volume level 3-4 dB up for this version comparing to red and blue labels. I'd say it's a nice reference to the original edition, but it does not truly influence sound quality.


COMPACT DISC

All vinyl editions of Niemen album were legal ones, all approved by artist himself, but the same can not be said about digital issues. Apart from issues licensed by Polskie Nagrania MUZA, there were also some that were not approved by Niemen and some illegal ones. A short explanation of difference between the two latter is in order. During a period of transformation of our state after 1989 law was far from being perfect, including its part concerning copyrights. It was then when many companies started to sell cassettes with copies of music. Even some companies that today are market leaders started this way. Long story short – at this time anybody in this country could copy and sell any music without breaking any laws.

On Feb. 4th 1994 a copyright act was introduced (Dz.U. 1994 no. 24 pos. 83.) and it made things even worse. Articles no. 125 and 126 said, that music released on vinyl records before April 23rd 1974 was NOT to be protected by this law. But the graphics on covers of all those issues was protected – interesting, wasn't it? Using this act the Andromeda label released several Niemen's albums with their own covers, using material copied from vinyl records. Niemen openly criticized this operation in his column in „Tylko Rock”. It was one of the reasons why he didn't work on any new material for years, and no re-issues of previous albums were released.

In short: CDs that were released in this way were, technically, legal, but it was sort of shady business. These were the “legal but not approved by Niemen” releases I mentioned earlier. The quality was very poor, covers were different from original ones, so there is no use for us to waste any more time on them. But we should be aware that such releases exist, even if Ms Małgorzata, Czesław Niemen's wife, could not accept even smallest mention of them. Tadeusz Skliński in the preface to his book Niemen. Dyskografia, fakty, twórczość wrote, that mentioning these releases was what caused Ms Małgorzata to retract her support for his book.

We have to understand her position. It was a legalized theft after all and no wonder either Niemen or his wife could accept that. On the other hand if one wants to present a full story of all releases, one can't omit these ones. It is not about promoting these releases but about journalist's due diligence.

Illegal releases are a separate category. The Act I mentioned before was amended five years later and today all recordings are protected by law. It was surprising to find out that Metal Mind was distributing illegal copies released by German company Green Tree. This was a copy of a “box” edition offering same sound and cover titled Człowiek jam niewdzięczny. No matter whether one agrees with Ms Małgorzata completely or not, no one should support thieves by buying their releases! I decided to compare only legal releases approved by artist himself or his inheritors. There are four of them and I own three of these.

I listened to these CDs many times using different systems. Two Players that were used in most cases were: CD Player Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-edition (50 000 PLN) and SACD Accuphase DP-900/DC-901 (180 000 PLN).


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Digiton DIG 115 | 1971/1992

Release IA and IB, JEWELBOX

The first digital issue was released in 1992 and it was prepared by a German company Digiton in cooperation with Niemen. It was licensed by Polskie Nagrania MUZA. CDs were pressed in Berlin.

In fact there are two versions of this release that I call IA and IB. The former included only 9 songs, lacking two: Chwila ciszy and Muzyko moja. The latter (on the back of the cover one finds: „2 Record Set on 1 Compact Disc”) included all pieces. According to the markings on their covers both were released same year, 1992, both have also the same catalog number – DIG 115.

But in fact they were not released same year, and we do not know which year does the “full” release come from. Why did the first one lack two songs? One might think it was about how much material could fit into a single CD. Today one may write even up to 80 minutes of material on one CD (it is possible to write even 90 minutes, but nobody does that), but initially it was possible to write only 74 minutes. Due to higher density of pits and lands on the disc today it is possible to write additional 6 minutes. But the version prepared in 2002 by Polskie Radio (Niemen od początku part 6, so called “box” version) included all songs and it lasted less than 74 minutes, which proved that whole material could be released even on the “old” (74 minutes) version of Compact Disc. Also the second, “corrected” release from Digiton included all tracks.

I have my own theory – I think that when they prepared this first release (1A) they simply didn't have all the master tapes. Why would I think that? Imagine a surprise of buyers of this first release when they realized that to prepare it the German company must have used material from both, mono and stereo master tapes. As you probably remember the original vinyl record was released in two versions: mono and stereo. It seems that each of them was made of a separate mix, and thus there should have been two sets of master-tapes. What's more, for the corrected (1B) version released by Digiton they added two missing songs using stereo versions. So what we get on 1B are 4 stereo tracks and seven mono ones. This is the only digital release with some mono mixes from this album. Tadeusz Skliński claims that spacing for mono recordings for these releases was enhanced. I own only the IA version and I don't think anything was done with spacial aspect of any of the tracks, but it is possible that it was done for the 1B release.

SOUND

When reviewing Niemen's debut album, Dziwny… I already wrote that Digiton's releases were pretty good. They seem to offer a bit brighter and more open sound. This allows, on one hand, to hear more noise and tape hiss, on the other sound of cymbals is more powerful, and there is much more drive and power in Tadeusz Jaśkiewicz' guitar, for example in Nie jesteś moja. Bass is quite clean and dynamic, although not so well defined and not particularly powerful. Niemen's voice seems pitched too high. But generally speaking this is quite a decent release. Let me remind you that this is the only one that includes some mono tracks, which makes it particularly interesting.


Niemen, CZŁOWIEK JAM NIEWDZIĘCZNY
Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Digiton NAE 105 | 1971/1995

Release II, JEWELBOX

It is a 1995 release, prepared by Digiton and Czesław Niemen's Nota Aenigma studio as a part of series called Niemen Retrospekcja – volume 5. The writing on a disc says: „Digital Remastered”, which means it is a new remaster. The first release was prepared with utmost care, so there are no writings on a cover and on the disc and there is only one writing on the cover's edge that says: „Niemen” – exactly like on a vinyl release. 1995 issue changes that and there are consequences of this fact: there is a new title on disc and on the side of the cover: Człowiek jam niewdzięczny, which is a title of the longest track from side 1A of the LP. What are these consequences? Well the, presumably, definitive edition of Niemen's albums prepared for Polskie Nagrania MUZA in 2002 also adopted this (incorrect) title, and what's more – it is placed on the front of the cover.

I can't tell you anything about the sound of this release – I wasn't able to acquire any copy of it – you might want to read my comparison between versions of a debut album, Dziwny jest ten świat…. I assume that differences in the “red” album case might be similar.


Niemen, CZŁOWIEK JAM NIEWDZIĘCZNY
Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Polskie Radio PRCD 336 | 1971/2002

Release III, DIGIPAK

In December 2002 the first box of Niemen od początku series was released. It included 6 albums, with additional one called Sen o Warszawie, that included two “fours” and other historic recordings. The Niemen, with title changed (upon artist's consent) to Człowiek jam niewdzięczny, in this box carries number 6. The box was released by Polskie Radio in cooperation with Polskie Nagrania. Attached booklet leaves out the fact, that a vocal ensemble „Partita” also participated in the recording of this album.

New mastering was performed by Czesław Niemen himself in his home studio called NAE Studio. He used stereo master tapes as a source of a signal. He used digital plugins for remastering and reconstruction, working with 24/96 resolution. He was also an author of graphics used inside digipack and on the disc.

In 2007 Polskie Radio released this album (not the whole box) again, this time with catalog number PRCD 336. It looks and sounds the same as the “box” release, so I'm going to treat them as one.

SOUND

This is the last, version of these recordings prepared by the artist himself. Just for that this version deserves our respect. But to be objective I have to say that this version is not very alike the original, LP one. Niemen obviously focused on creating more spatial environment, on having wider soundstage. When he did it for his mono debut album a result was truly interesting, but in this case it didn't work so well, in my opinion. I think that sound quality is worse than on the first digital re-issue, and totally different, worse than the sound from vinyl.

But the key issue here is what I call “tunneling” of the sound – vocal, cymbals and Hammonds sound like they were placed in a deep well. Bass seems more powerful, more substantial but it is also less tuneful, more monotonous.

Also other goal Niemen wanted to achieve seems clear – he wanted to “calm down” vocal, and lower its pitch. It worked but at the expense of rolled-off treble and lesser clarity of the sound. Sound of cymbals is hardly natural, one can't hear harmonics of cymbals, or proper openness of guitar sound.

It is difficult to describe this release with one word. It is so different from all the others that it makes it particularly interesting. But it has very little to do with the original, I mean the first mono and stereo vinyl issues.


Niemen, NIEMEN
Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Polskie Nagrania PNCD 1574 A/B | 1971/2014

Release IV, DOUBLE DIGIPAK

This release belongs to the series called „Remaster 2014”, together with previously released Dziwny jest ten świat…. All are marked with a label that says: „Remastered And Restored Edition”. Like its predecessors it is also released with digipak box, with wonderful cover including all four sides of a vinyl gatefold issue. Digipak comprises of three parts with a very nice booklet fixed inside.

I found one inaccurate element in this release – the logo used on the cover. They used logo that comes from before 1971, when the first issue of the “red” album was actually released. Exactly the same year, but before album release, Polskie Nagrania MUZA changed their logo. The logo that was used for the Remaster 2014 had been actually used from 1967-68 till the end of 1970.

A brilliant idea was to release this album on two Compact Discs, that were placed in two parts of the cover in exactly the same fashion as in the cover of a double vinyl album. It's a true rarity, as even the best Japanese productions are usually released on one CD. It can't be explained by cost-effective approach, as pressing of a CD is very cheap, it is rather about convenience, one of the main advantages of a CD format (over vinyl).

They also decided to return to the album's original title – that's commendable! There is only a single writing on the edge of the box: „Niemen”, that describes both – title and performer. On the discs themselves one can read that music is performed by Niemen Enigmatic, just like on original vinyl records.

People preparing this re-issue decided to use a changed Polskie Nagrania MUZA's logo on the cover, without a letter-digit code that was used for vinyl releases. On the back of the cover they placed a new logo of Polskie Nagrania. So it is not a perfect replica of the vinyl cover, but a great one anyway!

SOUND

A big project of restoration of Czesław Niemen's recordings (kept in the archives of Polskie Nagrania) started in 2014 and has been a great success so far. The two people who worked together to prepare the first four album, Mr Jacek Gawłowski, who transferred material from analogue tapes to digital domain and worked also on mastering and Ms Eleonora Atalay, who restored and “cleaned” the sound, achieved a fantastic results – their versions of Niemen's CDs are remarkable. They are the best digital releases, that also do not fall far behind original vinyl release in terms of sound quality!

Niemen is the first album that was prepared in a different way. Mr Jacek was responsible only for material transfer from analogue to digital domain, and Ms Atalay did all the rest. When I was working on this article listening to all remasters of this album, when I finally got to this release I learned that nothing really changed, I mean one couldn't really hear the difference between material that was mastered by Mr Jacek, and the one mastered by Niemen's daughter. And that's a good thing! The new version of the “red” album is simply remarkable. It is warm, rich but also resolving.

I couldn't find any problems with Niemen's vocal – it sounded rich and deep. Before I could hear the same effect from vinyl but only with expensive setups (like the one with Air Force Two and ZYX Ω Premium DIAmond – cost = 200 000 PLN). Now similar sound quality is available for anybody who owns a decent CD Player. Music on this album needed that more than any other. Sound is beautifully organic and focused. There is no crosstalk, no noise and dynamics is more impressive than on bit bright versions from Digiton. Finally also bass plays its role properly, rhythmically supporting vocal parts. Presentation seems spacial and rich. Choirs finally compose a logical whole with Niemen's voice.

All the above concerns original issues and re-issues. This is not a reference issue per se, as the range extremes are rolled off and leader's vocal isn't big enough. But these seem to be issues of the original recording and not of following releases. I am going to say something controversial, because it has to be said: considering coherence, richness and fluidity of the sound this new digital version might be even better than vinyl originals. This is a reference remaster just like previous Niemen's album, Niemen Enigmatic. Great job!

This experience motivated me to create a new award that I would present to special recordings offering extraordinary artistic and technical values, that I would call BIG RED Button. Niemen is the first release to be awarded with it.


LISTENING

I think that a similar result to the one of my test of Dziwny jest ten świat… album is not a big surprise. The new re-issue on Compact Disc is simply stunning. It allows us to fully appreciate what has been achieved during works on the first four albums of the series. I don't perceive minor differences compared to the original cover as flaws of this re-issue.

Sound quality of analogue version of the „Remaster 2014” series is problematic. Basing on comparison between all available vinyl version of the Niemen album I have to, regrettably, say that it is redundant. I couldn't recognize this fantastic sound quality that worked so well for digital release, on the analogue one. The sound quality of the original/first release of 1971 is simply unmatched.


DREAMS

I dream about a full set of all Niemen's albums, not just a selection, that would include a booklet with abundance of information about artist himself, about his music and about how the recordings were prepared for this release. The Compact Discs could be released in mini-LP form, as they are often released in Japan, in SHM-CD format (like four albums of SBB!), or even as Platinum SHM-CD. Union Disk would prepare a special box for the whole set.

The Niemen album would be an accurate copy of the first release, possibly released in mini-box together with its mono version. There would be a „STEREO” sticker on the cover of stereo version. I would use exactly the same remaster as of above described last version, as it is simply perfect. Unless I find some other, even better remaster, this one will be a reference for me. Inside the box one would also find a pen-drive with hi-res version and photos, and maybe even with some clips.

But that's not all – in my dream I can also see a vinyl box. These should be remastered in analogue domain in a fully analogue studio by a man who knows his vinyl. Records would be pressed in one of top pressing plants, maybe by American RTI. A box with both versions, mono and stereo, would be perfect.

I would be able to pay a lot for such a box. I am sure I wouldn't be the only one – people who listen to Niemen's albums are usually men in certain age, a bit eccentric and usually quite wealthy. This would be a reference release, a part of our cultural heritage.


SUMMARY

TJ: […] Czesław Niemen's Człowiek jam niewdzięczny, another great track “occupied” the whole first side. WG: Really great piece of music. For me it's one of Niemen's greatest achievements. This is a monumental track, but it also, for the first time in Polish rock's history, was based so strongly on improvisation. Perfect drums, wonderful Mikuła, Zieliński's beautiful, flowing solo on bass and finally yours guitar [Tomasz Jaśkiewicz'], that simply cuts the brain of a listener…
TJ: Yes, we really enjoyed playing this track. Have you noticed how amazing, mystic composition it is? Czesław's text is amazing, unique atmosphere. Already the opening promises an exciting development, a wonderful bass figure, first sounds of Hammonds, oh boy!, that was really something special.

Tomasz Jaśkiewicz, Witold Górka, dz. cyt., p. 177-178.

A SHORT GUIDE FOR A COLLECTOR
OR: HOW TO RECOGNIZE PARTICULAR RELEASE IN THREE SECONDS


Value of vinyl record depends on few factors: demand, version/release, record's and cover's condition. A serious collector should consider buying only Mint (M) or Near Mint (NM) copies. Western releases were additionally foiled, and as long as the foil is unbroken such a copy is called Sealed (or Still Sealed – SS). Polish records were not packed this way.

When it comes to vinyl records the most valued are the first pressings or some special releases, like on color vinyl, or coming from audiophile labels, and some others. Autographed copies usually cost more. If you're about to buy a copy of Niemen album you should be aware of the differences between releases – below you will find a short version of these.

The most valuable release is the first mono release. It sports a “clap” type cover, that need to be opened to put both records inside. Logo on the cover holds catalog numbers, for the mono version: XL 0710-711, for stereo: SXL 0710-711. The stereo release from the same period is almost as valuable. It sports exactly the same cover. Both versions sport a blue label, that holds a marking: SXL 0710-711.

The second edition with slightly different cover is bit less valuable. Instead of „clap” cover it sports a classic „gatefold”. There is only a stereo version of this release and thus there is only one catalog number inscribed into logo: SXL 0710-711. Labels are the same as in the first edition, they hold a number: SXL 0710-711.

The third issue sports a red label. This is the first re-issue of this album. It sports a „gatefold” cover with a SX 0710-711 number inscribed in logo. Same number is placed on labels too. Sound quality is pretty good. You can also find rare versions of this release, one with red label with silver writings on it, and the other, an export version that sports a new logo with SH 0710-711 catalog number on it. This is a more recent release as this new logo was introduced in 1979. Records themselves come from older stock though. They sport red labels with black writings.

The least valuable release is the one with yellow label. It was released in 1980ties and it offers quite poor sound quality. The latest, 2014, release was made based on digital material prepared for a CD and it also doesn't sound good, although the make of a cover is really good. There are blue labels with writings that look very similar to those on original issue. Cover holds (by mistake I assume) markings from the first, “clap” release, namely: XL 0710-711 and SXL 0710-711. The number on the label is the same as on the first, “clap” edition, namely: SXL 0710-711.

Editor in chief
Wojciech Pacuła

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