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Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January

John Kelman By

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They've gone under a number of names but, regardless of the moniker, this Polish piano trio—first gaining international exposure with trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, with whom they still work—has been working together for fifteen years. Stanko's Soul of Things (ECM, 2001) brought them the attention they deserved, but most remarkable has been their rapid growth, with Trio (ECM, 2005) making it abundantly clear that pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz are an uncannily simpatico trio, as they now enter their early thirties.

With an evolving intuitiveness and liberal approach that's been documented on Stanko's increasingly open-ended Suspended Night (ECM, 2004) and Lontano (ECM, 2006), the trio may now go under Wasilewski's name—he is its primary composer—but it remains a democracy that's abundantly clear on January, the follow-up to Trio.

January focuses less on spontaneous composition, although with the brief closer, "New York 2007," the trio's ability to extract form from the ether remains intact, with Kurkiewicz's robust tone and elegant simplicity alternating with Wasilewski's impressionistic harmonies. Wasilewski's opener, "The First Touch," begins in similar space, as a hauntingly melancholic melody gradually emerges amongst the trio's collectively lush soundscape.

While earlier albums have found Wasilewski wearing his influences more predominantly on his sleeve—notably Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock—he's finally transcended them. They'll never stop being a part of who he is, but it's his own voice that now fully dominates. It's a risky proposition to tackle a composition so strongly affiliated with a seminal influence, but with the trio's richer, more resonant treatment of Gary Peacock's "Vignette"—taken from his Tales of Another (ECM, 1977), featuring Jarrett alongside the bassist and drummer Jack DeJohnette—Wasilewski mines the emotional potential with equal strength but deeper introspection.

The most noticeable growth, however, is in Kurkiewicz, who has grown from sympathetic accompanist to confidently lyrical soloist in the space of a few short years. He plays an increasingly dominant role, working as a melodic partner with Wasilewski on what may be the definitive version of Ennio and Andrea Morricone's often covered "Cinema Paradiso." The trio moves easily in and out of time, the players capable of anticipating each others' every move while remaining ever-vigilant of unexpected discoveries lurking around every corner.

The trio has always possessed strength in subtlety, but in recent years—in performance with Stanko and with Wasilewski and Kurkiewicz members of drummer Manu Katch's group responsible for the groove-heavy Playground (ECM, 2007)—it's proved itself equally capable of extroversion. An innovative look at Prince's "Diamonds and Pearls" begins gently enough, but gradually builds in both pulse and power, ultimately revealing a familiar melody masked in a new context.

As with every ECM album with which this trio has been involved, January reveals a selfless approach more reliant on collective interaction and the creation of evocative aural landscapes than excess virtuosity, despite it becoming increasingly evident that nothing is beyond its reach.


Track Listing: The First Touch; Vignette; Cinema Paradiso; Diamonds and Pearls; Balladyna; King Corn; The Cat; January; The Young and Cinema; New York 2007.

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

Title: January | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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