Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Live (ECM 2592)

2592 X

Marcin Wasilewski Trio
Live

Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded live August 12, 2016
at Jazz Middelheim, Antwerp
by VRT-Vlaamse Radio en Televisie
Engineers: Walter De Niel and Johan Favoreel
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Album produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 14, 2018

When pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz stepped out onto Antwerp’s Jazz Middelheim stage on August 12, 2016, little did they know their performance was being recorded. Yet what a gift for those of us who couldn’t be there to experience the outgoing energy, ingoing consideration, and philosophical circuits thereof conducting electricity around this joyous music. Appropriate, then, that “Spark Of Life” should open the set with its expansive reasoning. The patience and willingness afforded by a live setting to let these tunes breathe (most exceed ten minutes) is unabashedly explored here, especially as the band phases into the inviting “Sudovian Dance.” In such a transition, one can hear exactly what makes this outfit click. In addition to the powerful arc of Wasilewski’s artistry, we find Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz attending to every architectural support with the attention of historical preservationists. As the first in a handful of Wasilewski originals, this dyad opens the door into a hallway of many mirrors, each of which offers a different shade of self-regard. We might therefore read “Three Reflections” as being as much about ourselves as about the thoughts of an unnamed other, whose distant experiences and desires detect us telepathically. In light of this four-dimensional turn, the linear journey of “Night Train To You” comes across with urgency. As one of the bandleader’s most masterful compositions, it’s primed to unfold grand wings in this freer setting. Wasilewski transforms the keyboard into an emotional express track, connecting heart to beating heart without looking back. And as the tender strains of “Austin” caress the ear, we know we’ve found a home away from home in the arms of someone whose only happiness is to ensure our own.

Along the way, Sting’s “Message In A Bottle” gets an uplifting treatment. The rocking bass line in Wasilewski’s left hand is satisfying to the nth degree, acting as a springboard for far-reaching improvisational gestures. Kurkiewicz basses like a storyteller who just can’t wait to share the ending with an eager audience, while Miskiewicz ensures that every punctuation mark holds integrity as a monument to inflection. And what an eager audience he must have, as the applause and cheers ride a wave of wonder superseded perhaps only by the musicians’ own.

Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” finishes with a tactile ride through rain-slicked streets and melodic due process. Every move feels as calculated as it does free: an enchanting dichotomy that lures us into every twist and turn until, like any great mystery, it falls into place in retrospect and gives us the pleasure of tracing our memories back to the start, where we can listen with fresh ears even before that final chord is struck with astonishing certainty.

Wasilewski/Kurkiewicz/Miskiewicz: TRIO (ECM 1891)

TRIO

TRIO

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.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (ECM 2019)

January

Marcin Wasilewski Trio
January

Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded February 2007, Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Pianist Marcin Wasilewski is a seeker of themes. As nominal leader of one of the most assured trios in recent jazz history, he throws together a variety of sources, moods, and songs into one pot, stirring until every ingredient takes on something of the rest. Bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz are therefore no mere sidemen. Their flavors permeate every morsel of this sonic stew, the group’s sophomore disc for ECM. With well over a decade of steady experience going into this record, it would be harder not to enjoy the synergy at play.

As per usual, the set list is grab bag of delights. Wasilewski leads off “The First Touch,” one of four original tunes, on a tender foot. The rhythm section here marks time by beats irregular and less discernible: kisses of raindrops before the album’s quiet storm. The title track, another penned by the pianist, is as somber as its season and finds Miskiewicz in a decorative mode. Balancing these are “The Cat” and “The Young and Cinema,” both decidedly hipper affairs replete with flourish and sparkle. Drums and bass crosstalk beautifully in both, the latter miked in such a way as to capture every inflection with immediate clarity.

Brightening the music’s silver screen pulse is Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso,” of which the pianism is so delicate that it nearly floats away of its own volition. Gentle, yes, but patterned by the razor edge of nostalgia. Such blurring between image and sound is paramount at ECM, and fans of the label will encounter much to admire between two cuts suggested by producer Manfred Eicher. The trio’s loving attention to detail is especially poignant in “Vignette,” which casts a backward glance to Gary Peacock’s seminal yet often-neglected Tales Of Another. The bassing here is magnetic, independent yet resolving by a gradual return to fold. By contrast, jocularity abounds in Carla Bley’s “King Korn,” which gets a treatment to be reckoned with. There is, further, a poignant nod to Tomasz Stanko—with whom the trio first gained international notoriety—by way of “Balladyna,” an enduring swirl of leaves fallen from the tree of Stanko’s label debut.

The group’s tradition of pop do-overs continues with Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls,” bringing to light the album’s most soaring passage and providing an aerial view of the trio’s melodic landscape. All of this ties together in “New York 2007.” This improvised blip completes the fulsome radar sweep by which this album navigates. January belongs on any jazz lover’s shelf right next to Changing Places as yet another groundbreaking statement of trio-ism from ECM. Its sounds are hollow-boned and ready to fly.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (ECM 2208)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio
Faithful

Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded August 2010, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Technical Assistant: Marco Strigl (RSI)
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For its third ECM outing, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio expands the precious spaces delineated to such patient effect on TRIO and January. A pianist of uncommon insight, Wasilewski brings out the minimal best in bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, who in turn inspire reflections on those keys that might not otherwise reveal themselves in solitude. Together, they plant the seed of the album’s ever-expanding flower with a curious opener: “An den kleinen Radioapparat.” This song, by German composer Hanns Eisler (so vivaciously immortalized in Heiner Goebbels’s tribute), is meant to evoke the voices of radio, which haunt the now wordless protagonist in exile. After a 4.5-minute wait at this remote station of smooth and translucent contours, we are welcomed aboard the “Night Train To You.” The first of five Wasilewski tunes, its landscapes bleed watercolor beyond our window. We feel at home somehow, despite being so far from it. Yet with such attentive passengers sharing our car, how could it be otherwise? Their erudition is so fully ingrained into the surroundings that they are free to jump on and off these tracks at will, laying their own along the way. A riffling snare pulls us aside and whispers timetables into our ears, while Kurkiewicz supplies the dimly lit lanterns, the art deco screens, and lavish accoutrements of an Orient Express dining car. If we are the serviettes folded so neatly beside those empty plates, then the lush cut of the title track is the main course that awaits our dabbing. Shingled wave lines on the shore are the language of this Ornette Coleman classic, constantly redrawn to the rhythm of the tide. Which is very much like the flip-flopping of rubato and steady cells in “Mosaic,” also by Wasilewski. The rhythm section’s current polishes our ears to the smoothness of river-rolled stones, culminating in a sparkling waterfall finish. The long exhalation of “Ballad Of The Sad Young Man” follows. Its liberation of youthful fears and more mature reflections make for an utterly captivating experience. Then again, the tenderness of “Oz Guizos” (by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal) makes the last feel like sandpaper in comparison, standing as one of the gentlest and most heart-stilling pieces in the ECM catalogue. Its heartbreak drips like rain from leaves after a quiet storm. The somber piano intro of “Song For Świrek” leads us into the album’s grooviest execution. Written by Wasilewski in memory of Marek Świerkowski, a close friend of the trio, its Ferris wheel pace turns skyward with the breadth of a hang glider. Miskiewicz caresses his kit, appropriately enough, as if it were in need of healing. The pianist’s final offering is “Woke Up In The Desert,” indeed a haze, a dream, a sun pressed into the scrapbook of the sky. Paul Bley’s “Big Foot” finds itself duly revived since its first label appearance on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock. The lively sasquatch of a solo from Kurkiewicz mixes wonderfully with the cameraman’s excitement in the piano. A true delight that reveals also superb detail in the drumming. Wasilewski ends things with his “Lugano Lake,” a protracted gaze through the studio window from one who would rather leave the condensation intact and examine every bead of upturned scenery as it drips into the proportion of something true.

Faithful represents a new direction. It favors protracted treatments and heightened sensitivity. The trio plays as it breathes, knowing just when to pause before moving on. Particularly well recorded, with just the right balance of intimacy and the infinity beyond it, it lives in soft focus. If you wish to know to whom they are being faithful, you need only turn the CD over and look at your reflection.

(To hear samples of Faithful, click here.)

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM 1896)

Manu Katché
Neighbourhood

Jan Garbarek saxophones
Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Manu Katché drums, percussion
Recorded March and November 2004, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Neighbourhood is an astounding, if subdued, meeting of minds. Like other ECM projects of its ilk, this congregation feels as if it arose out of a fundamental and inescapable desire to create music for the sheer enjoyment of it. There is no showing off here. This is laid back, burnished, melt-in-your-mouth jazz perfect for a quiet evening or a rainy afternoon. That being said, this is a far cry from what might elsewhere derogatorily pass for “smooth.” In spite of its overall delicacy the album is not without solid grooves (how can we not bob our heads to the piano-driven ride that is “Number One” or to the swinging horns of “Take Off And Land”?), effectively concise solos (cf. Garbarek’s gorgeous outburst in “Good Influence” and titillating turns from Wasilewski and Stanko in “Lovely Walk”), and enough stellar moments overall to turn any depressing day into a blissful mental excursion. The ensemble plays us out beautifully with “Rose.”

As the brainchild of Manu Katché and producer Manfred Eicher, Neighbourhood is essentially a rhythmic enterprise. Katché’s percussion work provides the crowning motifs to which his compatriots are each a shining jewel. Multiple listenings reveal new nuances of texture and interaction every time. A very fine but impermeable thread connects these musicians and Katché never dominates, waiting in the wings as his motifs take shape of their own volition. The title of the sixth cut says it all: “No Rush.” Take your time with this one and it will reward you greatly. Just press PLAY and you’re there.