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The Marcin Wasilewski Trio at Birdland, NYC

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The Marcin Wasilewski Trio
Birdland
New York City, New York
May 20, 2008

Pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz have been together since they were teenagers fifteen years ago. Over that time, they've put out a few albums locally in Poland and then were fortunate enough to be recommended to sub for the rhythm section scheduled to play with the legendary trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.

Immediately recognizing their talent both individually and collectively, Stanko took them under his wing, recording as a quartet three highly acclaimed ECM albums —Soul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004) and Lontano (2006). Along the way, they recorded their own album (when they were called the Simple Acoustic Trio), simply named Trio (ECM, 2005).

The Birdland engagement was the first of a tour supporting the release of their latest album on ECM, January. While Trio was very good, if a bit understated, and their work with Stanko exemplary, January is a major step forward for the trio in terms of Wasilewski's compositions and group cohesion. Having heard the trio play the previous night with Tomasz Stanko at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as at Birdland for the Lontano tour in 2006, I was anxious to hear the group on their own, playing their own music.

The set consisted of a number of tunes from January, although in a different order. What became clear very quickly was that the studio group is not an anomaly. While Wasilewski has been designated the leader (quite naturally) of the trio, and stands out as the lead voice, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz have both grown enormously since the 2002 recording.

The trio plays and reacts as a single organism, each player in constant contact with the others, pushing and pulling, surfacing and submerging, giving and taking. Thus, the rhythmic feel of the group is highly flexible— a driving pulse might coalesce and emerge from the ether, dramatically increasing the sonic density for the moment, only to let it go just as quickly. While it sounds on record as if Wasilewski dictates the flow, this live performace showed that change could be initiated by either Kurkiewicz or Miskiewicz.

Since their music tends to avoid strongly definitive or conventional harmonic changes, but is loaded with upper harmonics, and the rhythmic pulse is subdivided by two rather than three, the band can be hypnotic, especially when they sync up and begin to cook. The effect was apparent by the body language of the audience, rocking at half the speed of Wasilewski's right leg while remaining constantly alert to any change signaled in the music.

While the group has surely intensified its collective powers, Wasilewski's individual growth should not be overlooked. He has a superb touch along with complete control of the sustain pedal, and builds a solo expertly, using short phrases and lots of space, practically inviting the listener to breathe with the music.

That Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz are playing at this level despite being in their early thirties makes this trio special. Stanko's faith in their talent a few years back was well placed, as their growth has been remarkable and is seemingly without bounds.

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