Wasilewski/Kurkiewicz/Miskiewicz: TRIO (ECM 1891)



Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded March 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

there’s a beautiful view
from the top of the mountain
every morning i walk towards the edge
and throw little things off…

it’s become a habit
a way
to start the day
–Björk, “Hyperballad”

The hapless reviewer grows weary hailing each young jazz trio that comes along with something fresh as a re-invigoration of the field. But in the case of pianist Marcin Wasilewski, one would be fool not to. Along with bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, the young Pole first wowed ECM listeners backing Tomasz Stanko in such watershed recordings as Suspended Night and Lontano. For its first international disc, his self-assured trio presents a modestly titled set of original material and improvisations, plus a couple of surprises for good measure.

Let’s cut right to the surprises. Wasilewski and his cohorts offer such a beautiful take on Björk’s already beautiful “Hyperballad” that one who didn’t know any better might think it a spontaneous creation. This version captures the original’s aerial perspective by means of a slightly starker color palette, cautiously approaching the slope of catharsis. The chorus materializes only toward the end, as if it were dormant, waiting for the touch of a dream. Ranking alongside The Bad Plus’ take on Aphex Twin’s “Flim” as one of the great jazz crossovers of our time, this is one to remember. More obscure is “Roxane’s Song,” which comes from the opera King Roger by Karol Szymanowski. Devoid of words and context, it remains a seductive, nocturnal aria with frayed emotional edges.

Less surprising but equally effortless in the trio’s hands is Stanko’s “Green Sky.” Not heard since Matka Joanna, this one cradles some especially sensitive drumming and achieves a robust thematic unity. Likewise, Wayne Shorter’s “Plaza Real” turns the lights down low and warms the air with its summertime reverie. The three musicians interact ever so subtly here, filling in each other’s negative spaces with choice punctuations.

That’s just the icing. Now for the cake, which bakes up sweetly in the oven of Wasilewski’s creative mind. His tunes move like trains through black-and-white landscapes, drawing the rhythm section out from its shell and into the spotlights of “K.T.C.” and “Sister’s Song.” Both are first class examples of in-flight jazz, each with a distinct melodic sweep. Wasilewski’s wingspan is greatest here, as is the loose hi-hat of Miskiewicz, who excels in this album standout. “Shine” is another prime vehicle for the drummer and further boasts Kurkiewicz’s positive vibes. “Free-bop” is an emblematic tune for the trio’s sidewinding politics, throwing spotlight once again on the bassist, who dances his way through an invigorating solo and sets off some gorgeous popping of kernels all around.

Of the set’s freely improvised portions, “Entropy” is remarkable for its tenderness. It seems to balance its emotions on an ancient scale, itself eroding but holding true. The album’s bookends, two so-called “Trio Conversations,” are the weights in its pans. Each is a fleeting thought of brush and sparkle, lost to the river from which it was fished. May the current carry on for a long while yet.

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