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Darek Oleszkiewicz: The Promise

Jim Worsley By

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Darek Oleszkiewicz: The Promise
As much as John Coltrane left us, blessedly, with a bounty of notes, he also captured a bevy of moods within his artform. While there is much freedom of artistry, and hence note selection, in bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz's solo tribute to Trane, it is the latter that sets this Coltrane adventure apart. That and some virtuosic bass playing that astutely binds musical connectivity, spiritual acuity, and earth tone sensibilities.

In a faraway land, known as pre-pandemic 2020, Oleskiewicz was last seen completing a European tour as a member of the Pat Metheny Trio. This on the heels of spending much of 2019 as the rhythm section mate of the great Peter Erskine, in both trio and quartet formats. Diving headfirst into the music of Coltrane, during the void of live gigs, would seem a worthy challenge and a notable project for such a craftsman.

So, just what is the promise? The following words, attributed to Coltrane, are prominently presented inside the CD jacket. "Considering the great heritage in music that we have...the work of the giants of the past, the present, and the promise of those who are to come...I feel that we have every reason to face the future optimistically." That optimism has proved fruitful. Orchards upon orchards have been ripely cultivated from Coltrane's legacy alone.

Oleszkiewicz dug beyond "Giant Steps," "Impressions," "A Love Supreme," "Countdown," and a multitude of other Coltrane classics. He chose, instead, material that signified Trane's diversification in sound, melodicism, and yes, above all, mood.

Oleszkiewicz opens with "Satellite" from Coltrane's Sound (Atlantic, 1964). The original is a signature of chromatic spin in tight quarters. While Coltrane is brilliantly relentless, while never feeling trapped, Oleszkiewicz presents a solo with a simmering burn of exacting intent. He mindfully states every note with purpose. Oleskiewicz daringly sets the bar high, engagingly driving and maneuvering an endless stretch of open road.

Sun Ship (Impulse, 1971} is perhaps Coltrane's finest penetration into the free jazz foray. That record features "Dearly Beloved," a tune that cries out in pain, suffering, and heartbreak. Jimmy Garrison's deft bass playing inventively anchoring the ship and allowing Coltrane to travel in space. Oleszkiewicz is transcendent in both nuance and improvisation. Oleszkiewicz is violinist in nature with his bow, echoing the likes of Stephane Grappelli or Zbigniew Seifert. Dramatically inlayed, and intuitively graced, "Dearly Beloved" is a fine wine now added to Oleszkiewicz's cellar.

A song that takes on the air of a swinging standard is a giant step in mood swing from the woes of "Dearly Beloved." Indeed, from Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960), Coltrane's "Cousin Mary" demonstrated his mastery of swing. Oleszkiewicz climbs the stairs slowly with a series of singular bop grooves tucked into a spiral. While rhythmically slapping and tapping the body of his bass at times along the way, he playfully invites you to feel and enjoy the free-swinging moment with him.

The title track is up next, and while "The Promise" is perhaps most famously known from Coltrane's Live at Birdland (Impulse, 1964). It is also known as a conversational piece spoken with his soprano sax, unlike his more commonly played tenor. "High-spirited" comes to mind in describing Oleszkiewicz's take. His note selection is so vivid that he manages to pull off a conversation with himself, as if reflections in a mirror. Somehow jiving and deep in thought simultaneously, "The Promise" is kept throughout this glorious romp.

"Naima" revisits Giant Steps while visiting for the first time a peaceful yet drolly tranquil mood. While Coltrane's soulful rendition may leave you teary eyed, Oleszkiewicz uses his singularity to his advantage. Loneliness and quiet despair, along with the richness of his tonality, tell a story of sadness that tenderly fades away. The pluck of each note is a pull at yet another heartstring.

Some peppered bass lines by Paul Chambers are at the core and adjoined at Coltrane's hip in "Bass Blues." From John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio (Prestige, 1958), this is one feisty blues number. The back beat applied by Oleszkiewicz is enough to give you whiplash. Add in a dash of funk and some micro hip changes in direction, and you have his fueled up and alive and kicking round up of "Bass Blues."

Years ago, Coltrane took us for a mid-August stroll through Central Park. Going back where we started with Coltrane's Sound, Oleszkiewicz formidably strides into "Central Park West" and walks us through a brisk day full of joy and sunshine and the promise of another day. His rhythmic gait swings wide open to both create and follow the mood wherever it takes him. Ambitious note selections are richly secured and filtered throughout this scenic soundtrack of the beauty within a New York City summer's day.

Risk and reward, they say, go hand in hand. Of course, it's not nearly that simple. Even with anything from a quartet to a full orchestra, reimagining the brushstrokes of a master is a daunting task. Undertaking this task as a soloist takes the three C's. Confidence, chops, and the kind of "cool" that lived and breathed inside of Miles Davis. A quiet and thoughtful man, Oleszkiewicz treated the pages in front of him with ultimate respect. Fittingly, the music, once in his capable hands, responded in kind.

Track Listing

Satellite; Dearly Beloved; Cousin Mary; The Promise; Naima; Bass Blues; Central Park West.

Personnel

Darek Oleszkiewicz: bass.

Album information

Title: The Promise | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Self Produced

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