Marcin Wasilewski Trio at Triskel Christchurch

Ian Patterson BY

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Marcin Wasilewski Trio
Triskel Christchurch
Cork Midsummer Festival
Cork, Ireland
June 15, 2019

What a difference a few centuries can make. In 1649 English military leader Oliver Cromwell, in what was the least of his crimes, allegedly used Christchurch to stable his soldiers' horses. He is also said to have melted the church bells to make cannons, as trumpets and saxophones hadn't been invented at that stage. In the following centuries the building was also used as a prison—for Catholics and then for Protestants—and as a soup kitchen. Christchurch ceased its churchly functions in 1978, and like so many other churches in Ireland and the UK, is now primarily used as a multi-disciplinary arts center.

Still looking more suited to prayer, with its dark wooden pews, than to staging entertainment, this elegant Georgian building was the setting for the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. Its appearance as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival was also the trio's first date in a lengthy European tour. The Polish trio has visited Ireland intermittently over the years, also performing with the late Tomasz Stanko in Dublin in 2015 for the one-off April Jazz festival.

Of course, it was with Stanko that Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz came to international prominence in the early / mid 2000s with a trio of critically acclaimed albums. The three musicians, however, have been playing together since 1993, when they went by the name of the Simple Acoustic Trio, and are a significant force in their own right. As such, this tour marks part of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio's quarter century celebrations.

With the obvious exception of Keith Jarrett's now-defunct trio with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock, it's difficult to think of many trios that have been together for such a length of time. That depth of communion brings special musical rewards for musicians and listeners alike, and the chemistry at play between Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz, on this cool summer evening in Cork, was pronounced.

Given that the trio began with the tender, gospel-tinged "Austin," followed by the rhythmically lithe, melodically flowing "Spark of Life—with Miskiewicz switching between hands and sticks—the audience might have expected a nostalgic, career-spanning trawl through the trio's back catalog. The trio, though, had other ideas, presenting instead the bulk of its forthcoming, untitled album. Clearly, this tour will serve to road-test and refine the new compositions before entering Manfred Eicher's studio. Most of the tunes, in fact, had only working titles or hadn't been baptized at all.

Veering between pianissimo balladry and mid-tempo trio workouts, Wasilewski's body language responded accordingly. He pumped his right leg energetically as though working some giant bellows as the trio charged with the wind in its sails. On the softer tunes, in contrast, the pianist leaned in, head cocked sideways, his left ear almost pressed to the keys, as though they were dictating the terms.

At both extremes the trio commanded attention; Wasilewski in full flow, with drums and bass driving him on, was exhilarating, but there was something altogether hypnotic in the poetic finesse of the trio's through-composed ballads. With Wasilewski's caressing touch achingly lyrical, it was easy to see why Stanko, that most painterly of balladeers, was drawn to the pianist.

A fine rubato ballad was followed by a powerfully pulsing vehicle for individual expression, provisionally titled "Wayne's Mood." All three in turn delivered solos of contrasting character as the musical contours waxed and waned—Wasilewski expansive and flowing, Kurkiewicz spare and lyrical, Miskiewicz exuding explosive energy. And thus, it went, impressionistic, dulcet-toned balladry giving way to rhythmically dynamic trio frames.

The new material, as good as it was, didn't speak of any obviously new direction. Wasilewski's is a trio that that has eschewed fads and pretty much stuck to its stylistic guns since day one. Wasilewski, however, confided that the new album will feature a special collaborator, which has the potential to greatly enrich the tonal colors of these tunes, much as Joakim Milder did to subtle effect on Spark of Life (ECM, 2014). A guitarist, this time? Might be just the ticket.

A typically robust mid-tempo number delivered the most thrilling exchanges of the evening. Head and solos smoothly negotiated, Wasilewski then unleashed a torrent of hammered chords, which ignited a fiery response from Miskiewicz. A little more of such loose-limbed flexing of muscles, of caution to the wind, wouldn't have gone amiss. The flames spent; the trio resumed its composure in the softest of landings.

A deep-funk bass ostinato announced Herbie Hancock's "Actual Proof." Whilst the trio traced the melodic blueprint closely, this was a nicely free-spirited take, featuring zesty improvisations from Wasilewski and Miskiewicz, the latter working his kit with gusto over a piano and bass vamp. After exiting through the stage curtains, the trio responded to the applause by returning for an encore. Though its version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was teasingly brief, Wasilewski's sunny, blues-tinged playing over Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz's dancing rhythm was a delight, rounding out the set on a cheerily upbeat note.

Summers come and go. Memories, of wars even, eventually fade. Music, on the other hand, perdures. Think Johann Sebastian Bach or Duke Ellington. Who knows what the fates will dictate for the Triskel Christchurch, or indeed Ireland, in the coming centuries? It's likely, though, that the music of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio will still be preserved in some as yet to be conceived format, in some funky, futuristic archive. Safe from the warmongers and the tides of history.

Photo credit: Marcin Wasilewski website

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