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Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful

John Kelman By

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Over the course of the past decade, the members of pianist Marcin Wasilewski's trio have been growing in the public eye, first as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's young Polish quartet on a trio of albums culminating in Lontano (ECM, 2008), and then, in the case of pianist Wasilewski and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, through a collaboration with Manu Katche on two of the drummer's ECM releases, including Playground (2007). But before all that attention, Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were Simple Acoustic Trio—later, settling on their current moniker—and concurrent with their work as Stanko and Katché sidemen, have released a couple of albums, also on ECM, that demonstrate the value of longevity and focus. Faithful is the trio's best yet, with everyone at the absolutely top of their game, with a program that, as ever, combines music from external sources with Wasilewski's increasingly confident originals.

This trio knows that good music is where you find it, but while Trio (2005) and the even more impressive January (2008) reworked pop songs by Björk and Prince alongside its obscurer jazz sources, Faithful references none at all, sourcing its music from the jazz and classical worlds. The trio's delivers a floating, rubato reading of Hanns Eisler's "An den kleinen Radioapparat," its glorious melody—a mix of majesty and melancholy—unfolding slowly, while the unexpectedly rich harmonies underscoring Ornette Coleman's title track are colored by Wasilewski's fluid attention to detail, and Miskiewicz's delicate cymbals and deeper mallet work. Hermeto Pascoal's "Oz Guizos" is darker still, its changes and memorable melody emerging with painstaking care, while a bright look at Paul Bley's "Big Foot" swings nearly as hard as Bley's own version on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (ECM, 1970), and with a similarly unfettered outlook that speaks to Wasilewski's own roots in Bley, by way of Keith Jarrett.

But it's Wasilewski's writing that provides Faithful's best moments. The fiery "Night Train To You," driven by Miskiewicz's subtle pulse and Kurkiewicz's muscular anchor, demonstrates how effortless irregular meters can be, when everyone is playing through them, as opposed to on them. Its singable melody and simmering energy recalling the late Esbjorn Svensson's e.s.t., despite focusing away from overt virtuosity and towards collaborative interpretation, everyone impressing without resorting to "look at me" pyrotechnics. Still, Wasilewski's extended solo is a tremendous example of motivic development, each successive line a logical evolution from what came before, as the pianist responds to reciprocal pushes and prods from his band mates, leading to a coda of unexpected calm after the storm of Miskiewicz's solo. Wasilewski's "Mosaic" is equally straightforward, based on the sparest of ideas, but expanded to over ten minutes without ever overstaying its welcome. The trio's DNA-level empathy encourages an effortless flow of ideas, including a particularly lithe solo from the robust-toned Kurkiewicz.

Wasilewski may be the titular leader, and contribute all the original material, but Faithful clearly relies entirely on the strength of a collective for whom lyricism is paramount, regardless of the context—direct and driven or implicit and suggestive, but always placing the whole as the objective beyond its individual contributing voices.

Track Listing: An den kleinen Radioapparat; Night Train To You; Faithful; Mosaic; Ballad Of The Sad Young Man; Oz Guizos; Song for Świrek; Woke Up In The Desert; Big Foot; Lugano Lake.

Personnel: Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double-bass; Michal Miskiewicz: drums.

Title: Faithful | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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