Marcin Wasilewski Trio - Faithful (2011)


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One of ECM's rising stars is back three years after knocking it out of the park with a sensational album the last time around. Marcin Wasilweski leads a trio from Poland and January, their second album together outside the long shadow of Polish trumpet giant Tomasz Stanko, displayed maturity and subtleties from these young performers that's startling coming from a generation of musicians where those qualities seem to be in short supply. Though January was an easy selection to the Best of 2008: Traditional & Modern Jazz list, this already-excellent album promised even better things ahead.

Earlier this month, on April 12, the Marcin Wasilweski Trio presented the follow-up CD Faithful, and delivered on that promise.

The appeal of Wasilweski's piano is not in his dexterity but in his restraint and his feel. He is like Keith Jarrett in that he is a master of delicacy and emotional expression, but while Wasilweski appeals to the same audience as Jarrett, he isn't a clone of the elder player. The Pole utilizes space even more, and doesn't dwell on ideas for quite as long. He also adopts the understated lyricism of Bill Evans, and like both masters, is keen on the whole trio concept, allowing both the bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz both to assume key roles that are nearly as important as his own, because he knows that doing so enhances the overall music.

As noted in the January review, this is a combo that's clearly played together for a while; both Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz can anticipate the leader's every shadowy move. Kurkiewicz has the harmonic sensitivity and preciseness of a Dave Holland, while Miskiewicz draws his attributes from two of ECM's most renowned drummers: Paul Motian and Jon Christensen, both brilliant colorists.

That Bill Evans inspiration is made clear right from the opening track, a romantic number by Hanns Eisler called “An den kleinen Radioapparat," that adopts the melancholy, clambering structure of Evans' take on “My Foolish Heart," including the use of the drums almostly entirely for shadings. Such an approach is adopted again for the title track, an Ornette Coleman song. Coleman songs are often used to explore atonalities or other unconventional tonal structures; Wasilweski instead sees the untethered beauty of another “Lonely Woman" with “Faithful." Other songs will start out in the floating, searching style of these two before settling into a nifty little groove. “Oz Guizos," “Song For Swirek," (video below) and “Lugano Lake" are like that. The threesome's adaptation of Paul Bley's “Big Foot" grooves in a loose fashion all the way through, and it's a rare but delightful revelation of Wasilweski's spunky side.

The best of these songs however are usually the ones where the melody wanders off the straight line down an interesting path that logically extends out from the original idea, but always returns home. “Night Train To You" and “Mosaic," both Wasilweski originals, are prime examples, and by using such intricacies these songs reward close listening. The former moves along at a crisp pace as it traverses through three or four different chord progressions, and the interplay is phenomenal. Wasilweski unravels a beauty of a solo on this cut, full of verve and passion. He also improvises smartly on the latter song, often blending it in with comping nearly undetected. Kurkiewicz solos here as well, who, like the pianist, consistently finds the most expressive note.

Standout individual performances, great group chemistry and well-conceived originals alongside imaginative covers. You can't ask for much more, but there is: Manfred Eicher behind the controls all but assures a flawless recording, and even in this department, the label founder did one of his better jobs. You can pick up on the little twists by Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz that reveal the close communication among all three players, and it's accomplished without putting the two too far up front in the mix.

Even with a whole eight months left in the year, I doubt there will be a better piano trio album released in 2011.

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