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Marcin Wasilewski: From Simple Acoustic Trio to Tomasz Stańko

John Kelman By

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Live performing is so different from the studio, because in the studio you have a lot of space; it —Marcin Wasilewski
While there seems to be an unprecedented number of young jazz musicians releasing recordings under their own names these days, one of the long-held foundations of the jazz tradition seems to be taking a back seat; specifically, the nurturing of young talent through the tutelage of older, more established musicians seems to be turning into a thing of the past. And that's a shame, because while there are certainly a number of young artists who have managed to emerge as strong and independent players in their own right, the chance to learn on the bandstand from artists who have been at it for a lifetime is an irreplaceable opportunity to absorb the tradition while, at the same time, keeping an eye firmly focused on the future.

And so when Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski, at the tender age of 16, got a call from trumpeter Tomasz Stańko, unquestionably Poland's most well-known jazz artist, and one who has been enjoying increasing international exposure since returning to the fold of the ECM label in the mid-'90s, little did he know that for himself, and the other members of his Simple Acoustic Trio, this would be the opportunity of a lifetime and the beginning of a relationship that continues to this day. At first Wasilewski and his band mates—bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz—played smaller dates in Poland, while Stańko performed higher profile gigs with his international ensembles that included pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin, drummer Tony Oxley and others. But since '01, when the trio recorded their first album with Stańko, the remarkably sublime Soul of Things, they have emerged as Stańko's ensemble of choice and now perform on stages internationally.

With their association with Stańko increasing their visibility on the international scene, it seems like absolutely the right time for ECM to release their first album as a trio to reach a broader audience. The simply-titled Trio clearly demonstrates the lessons learned from working with Stańko. Still, with original compositions and tunes from Bjork and Wayne Shorter supplementing a number of free pieces, it's clear that the trio has reached a new level, combining a strongly lyrical sensibility and more exploratory collective improvisational approach into a distinctive group identity.

Early Days and the Beginning of Simple Acoustic Trio

Wasileski's exposure to the piano and jazz came at an early age. "I started to study piano when I was seven," says Wasilewski, "and studied classical music through high school; then I started to study jazz. But while I became more interested in jazz when I was 13, I remember hearing it for the first time when I was six years old. My uncle, who plays drums, invited me to a concert, and I remember this moment because I was so young, and I remember the music. I sometimes wonder how some people don't like jazz, because when I was only six this music was so clear to me.

"Then I started to listen to my father's tapes," continues Wasilewski, "Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and others. And then when I was 13 I found a videotape of a Keith Jarrett concert from Japan. I asked my mother to buy it for me, and I remember that I watched it every day for a year-and-a-half. It was so amazing, this tape, and from that moment on I started to dream about playing this kind of music."

It wasn't long before Wasilewski formed Simple Acoustic Trio, a group that, with the exception of one personnel change early on when Michal Miskiewicz joined, remains unchanged to this day. "We started the group when we were in school," Wasilewski explains, "and created the name in the playground. People have asked us if the name means anything, but it doesn't really—we just wanted to have an English name because, for us, jazz was an American music.

"It's quite rare for bands to last this long," Wasilewski continues, "I know in New York everybody plays with everybody, and in Poland the musicians change too. We did have the opportunity to play with other musicians as well, and that was a very good opportunity to learn more, to experience more. But this band is really special to me because we felt a real chemistry from the very beginning. We just wanted to play together, to be better, and to play better. We learned together, and now it has been 11 years and we still feel like we're growing. The music is always evolving; I don't know when it will stop, but I hope never."

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