The extremely good news is that January, the second ECM release by the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, shows a group that has grown by leaps and bounds since the release of their first disc, Trio. The group has been named after its pianist now, not merely by virtue of the fact that the pianist is often the leader, but also because Wasilewski is truly leading this excellent group of musicians. Nonetheless, the group is in every sense a modern piano trio, meaning that bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz are equal members of the band, not merely the ‘rhythm section.’ Kurkiewicz is a much stronger presence on the new recording, and the musical bond between he and Wasilewski has been strengthened by their work with drummer Manu Katche’s recording group.
They have also learned about making and sequencing a successful jazz recording, something they no doubt gleaned from trumpet player Tomasz Stanko and ECM magnate/producer Manfred Eicher. January flows like music that simply was there, and which Wasilewski and his cohorts merely plucked out of the air and made audible to the rest of us. The opening “First Touch,” an original composition, unfolds slowly, like a meditation, with Wasilewski delivering gorgeous Bill Evans meets Keith Jarrett piano while Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz provide a depth of color and texture.
Following this serene opening, the group launches into a series of covers that demonstrates their ability to vary their style and their knack for finding just the right material to interpret. Gary Peacock’s “Vignette” was included on the bassist’s 1977 recording Tales of Another, which just happened to feature a trio comprised of Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, and Keith Jarrett. Coincidence? Not a chance. Wasilewski knows that Jarrett’s Standards Trio is the standard by which new piano trios are judged, and they take on this tune and make it their own. If the Marcin Wasilewski Trio are the new Young Lions to Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette’s old masters, they manage to do more than merely pay tribute to their elders.
Both “Cinema Paradiso” and Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls” are romantic, melodic pieces in this group’s hands, but they are not facile exercises in empty beauty. Rather, each element seems as though there was no other element that could have taken its place, such is the perfection of the group’s conception of these tunes. Both tracks allow their melodic secrets to slowly unwind rather than hitting you in the face with them. It is fully half of “Cinema Paradiso’’s eight and a half minutes before Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz lock into a groove. And while they create a fantastic atmosphere for Wasilewski, it is still all the pianist’s show on this tune. One senses that Wasilewski has a soft spot for this tune, so careful is his attention in playing it. “Diamonds and Pearls” features the interplay between Kurkiewicz and Wasilewski, as the bassist first introduces the song’s descending melodic line, then is joined by Wasilewski in octaves, finally handing the melody off to the pianist.
Tomasz Stanko’s classic composition “Balladyna” is handled nicely by the trio, as they supplement it’s slightly disturbing melodic statement with chord clusters. The rhythm section goes fairly free-form during Wasilewski’s solo, and the group’s roiling intensity simmers like a summer thunder cloud. Carla Bley’s “King Korn” also sounds relatively free in its initial presentation, but the song’s strong structure helps define it, and the group goes into a swinging hyperdrive about a third of the way through, demonstrating that they can play solid mainstream post-bop when they want to.
The last four tunes are Marcin Wasilewski Trio originals (the last, ‘New York 2007’ is a group improvisation). First up is Wasilewski’s “The Cat,” driven by a springy bass figure over which Wasilewski plays his Jarrett-influenced piece. This group is capable of getting into an irresistible groove, a fact they have demonstrated numerous times with Stanko and now as a trio. Kurkiewicz also solos on the track, providing proof of his growth. The title track is a Wasilewski tour-de-force, a gorgeous and meditative number that pulls the listener in with its intimacy. “The Young and Cinema,” also by Wasilewski, references a Polish film festival by that title and tips the hat to the cinematic quality of this group’s conception. In countries such as Poland, where democratic reforms are still within recent memory, the arts have all rapidly developed hand in hand as a greater degree of individual expression is welcomed. This piece in particular is reminiscent of the work Wasilewski has done with Manu Katche.
It is not just the individual players who have grown since the trio’s first disc, but the group as an entity. The final number, “New York 2007” is a group improvisation, the only one on January. Marcin Wasilewski Trio did several such experiments on their first recording, but the level of group interaction has increased here, and the results are stunning. January puts the Marcin Wasilewski Trio at the head of the class of young jazz groups out there, both from Europe and the U.S., who respect the traditions of jazz but are determined to put their own spin on it.