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Dominik Wania: Lonely Shadows

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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Dominik Wania: Lonely Shadows
Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert (1975) may still be regarded as the undisputed milestone in ECM's rich history of solo piano recordings. But that doesn't mean that other landmark albums such as Paul Bley's Open, To Love (1973), Richie Beirach's Hubris (1973) or later releases like Stefano Bollani's Piano Solo (2005) and Marilyn Crispell's Vignettes (2007)—among many others— don't have their rightful places among jazz critic's and fans' favorites lists, too. Even though the mentioned records date back quite a bit, it would be wrong to assume that the solo piano format has gone out of fashion. In fact, 2020 was the year of the solo piano for ECM, seeing the release of Benjamin Moussay's quietly romantic Promontoire, as well as Jon Balke's miniature-rich Discourses. 2021's Nik Bärtsch release, Entendre, seems to be continuing the streak. Dominik Wania's Lonely Shadows represents the third solo piano release of 2020, and the Polish pianist's first appearance for the label detached from saxophonist Maciej Obara. As is the case with many pianists from his generation, at the end it's Jarrett, whose approach Wania's pianistic studies prove to have most in common with. But the reminiscence doesn't only lie in the different styles Wania elegantly combines and incorporates or the harmonic breadth his intuition is capable of mustering, but most of all the confidence and instinctiveness with which he tackles spontaneous creation. A long process of back and forth, proposing and ruling out various instrumentations for his leader debut preceded what would finally become a solo piano recital held at the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, Switzerland. ECM's Manfred Eicher and Wania eventually decided that a completely spontaneous and purely improvisational recording situation would best suit the occasion. And they were right.

In the context of Obara's quartet, which is the outfit through which Wania has arguably become best known, the pianist's interventions are on point, eloquent but modest—rarely going off on an extensive tangent through rougher waters but keeping to the group dynamic. The solo situation has lent him wings with which he's able to caress the air in multiple different angles, at various speeds and to his own gusto.

In fluid juxtaposition of styles and techniques, Wania paints eleven contrasting pictures on blank canvases, whose plain-white quickly turns into explosions of color. It should be impressive enough that pure improvisation of this virtuoso nature will lead to such coherent and well-articulated individual elaborations, but the true art of Wania's performance lies in the massive scope of inspiration and influence he channels in such a short and momentary timespan. It requires one to rid themselves of all preconceived idioms and ideas for a specific window in time, which is an art in itself.

Trading big romantic gestures in the one moment with impressionist subtlety in the next, the pianist's fingers navigate across the keys with rare conviction, as if he were reading the music off a sheet. In the process, Wania demonstrates relentless precision and effortless speed that appear to be informed by his background in classical music. The conflation of the classical world of piano music and jazz amount to an abundance of nuances, textures and forms in the hands of the pianist, covering a wide range of impressions, emotions and atmospheres in a matter of under an hour.

Like shiny crystals hanging down from a chandelier, Wania's legato-runs twinkle and sparkle in the beginning sequences of "New Life Experiences" before turning into even brighter events. Like "New Life Experiences," forms on Lonely Shadows can be based around specific harmonic shifts that appear to be born out of nowhere and suddenly recur, according to the ebbing and flowing of tempo, dynamics and momentum. Other improvisations are more textural and favor dissonant tendencies within progressions that pretend to have tonal aspirations. "Melting Spirit," for example, represents this aspect of the album and evinces parallels to some of Keith Jarrett's free-improvised concerts. The beginning sequences of Jarrett's Budapest Concert (ECM, 2020) in particular come to mind.

Expositions such as "Towards The Light" remind us that colorful doesn't necessarily have to refer to anything beyond black or white, but that even the two most fundamental achromatic colors can produce the most sophisticated and nuanced imagery, as illustrated on the album's cover artwork by Uruguayan painter and visual artist Fidel Sclavo. Sanguine in one instance, the piece's patient but ambiguous cadences threaten to take a dark turn but never quite end up where one would expect them to go—drawing uneven dark lines on a seemingly white surface.

No matter the color or the form, Dominik Wania has undoubtedly created one of the most invigorating solo piano recordings, and thereby solidified his role as an important voice in the contemporary jazz scene. It should prove exciting to see in which format he will present his craft next. A trio record—a jazz pianist's other royal discipline —would make sense. He's recorded several trio records before, notably the Ravel homage Ravel (For Tune, 2013) and The Other Side Of It (Double Moon Records, 2015) with Nak Trio. But ECM's notoriously pristine sonic qualities paired with Eicher's discerning presence have opened up Wania's sound to a whole other dimension. If he is able to create such bliss by himself, there's no guessing how far he can go with three. But then again, why mess with a good, even great thing?

Track Listing

Lonely Shadows; New life Experience; melting Spirit; Towards The Light; Relativity; Liquid Fluid; Think Twice; AG76; Subjective Objectivity; Indifferent Attitude; All What Remains.

Personnel

Dominik Wania: piano.

Album information

Title: Lonely Shadows | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: ECM Records

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