Unique Interactions Propel Marcin Wasilewski Trio

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Pianist Marcin Wasilewski’s trio has been together for about 25 years.

(Photo: ©Maurits van Hout/ECM Records)

In 2019, one of Europe’s most esteemed jazz ensembles, the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, will celebrate its 25th anniversary. In advance of this milestone, the Poland-based group just released its fifth ECM album, Live, which vividly captures the threesome in a relaxed and organic mood two years ago at Jazz Middelheim, in Antwerp, Belgium. These triumphs have been tempered by news of the July 29 death of the trio’s longtime mentor and former bandleader, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko.

“It’s a big loss—not only for me, but for my fellow band members, and for the whole music world,” Wasilewski said the day before the trio performed in Warsaw for Stańko’s memorial. “I think of him as a musical father.”

Pianist Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz first played with Stańko in 1994, then toured widely with him for 15 years, recording three albums for ECM: Soul Of Things (2001), Suspended Night (2003) and Lontano (2006). Like Stańko, they melded a melancholy, introspective vibe with the bluesy, inside-outside approach of the late-’60s Miles Davis Quintet. “Tomasz’s approach to the music was new to us,” Wasilewski said. “We had been listening to open music, avant-garde music, but for us it was like a mystery. From the beginning, we felt a chemistry.”

The trio always has enjoyed great chemistry on its own, too. But even they were surprised by the Middelheim tapes, done for radio, but without any intention of releasing an album.

“When we listened to the recording, we realized the interaction in the band was unique,” Kurkiewicz said. “Each of us had already digested and internalized the music, so our approach was to take a risk and be as creative as we could.”

Those familiar with the trio’s 2014 album, Spark Of Life (ECM), with Swedish tenor saxophonist Joakim Milder, will recognize the material. The new album opens with the celestial title track from that earlier recording, but as an intro to the livelier, unevenly pulsed “Sudovian Dance,” a tune inspired by a rhythmic pattern Wasilewski heard in Sudovia, an area of northeast Poland rich in folk dances. “It’s a waltz, but with a little step—one-two-three-one-one-two-three,” he explained. “You can dance to it.”

Wasilewski definitely dances over the keys with crisp and playful abandon. The evocative “Night Train To You” also chugs along in an odd meter: 11/8. The trio often includes a familiar pop song on its albums—this time, Sting’s “Message In A Bottle,” which exemplifies the trio’s knack for expressing churning anxiety beneath an apparently calm surface. “Three Reflections,” an allusion to the cooperative nature of the trio, lives up to its name, as piano, bass and drums intertwine. Wasilewski’s clear, clean keyboard attack and the swell and ebb of his lines here recall Keith Jarrett.

“When I was 13 years old, I watched a video of [Jarrett]—Standards, from Tokyo—every day for one year,” Wasilewski recalled.

“Austin” is a gorgeous eulogy for Austin Peralta (1990–2012), the Los Angeles pianist and composer who recorded with Ron Carter at age 16 and later worked with Flying Lotus. “He was like my younger brother,” Wasilewski said. “I was so proud of him.” Live closes with Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof,” a hard-driving contrast to the placid moods elsewhere. Though Wasilewski acknowledges the influence of Hancock, he emphasizes that he never has been a transcriber. “I remember Bill Evans was asked about how he makes a certain harmony, voicings, and he said, ‘Do it yourself. Then you will be happy when you find your own way.’”

The Marcin Wasilewski Trio has done exactly that, and will no doubt continue to do so. DB



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December 2018
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