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Marcin Wasilewski Trio/Joe Lovano: Arctic Riff (ECM)

A review of the trio's first collaboration with the tenor saxophonist

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Marcin Wasilewski Trio/Joe Lovano: Arctic Riff
The cover of Arctic Riff by the Marcin Wasilewski Trio/Joe Lovano

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and Michal Miskiewicz first got noticed in 2002, when they debuted as Tomasz Stanko’s rhythm section on his ECM album Soul of Things. They were young unknown Polish players and Stanko was Poland’s greatest living jazz musician. No wonder they sounded cautious. They did not get much solo space, but they supported Stanko with creative sensitivity.

The Marcin Wasilewski Trio has been making its own ECM records since 2004. They are no longer cautious. Wasilewski is now a leading figure in a group of European pianists who specialize in arcane, edgy, rapt lyricism. (Think Bobo Stenson, Stefano Battaglia, Giovanni Guidi, Leszek Możdżer.)

Joe Lovano, who wins the major jazz polls on tenor saxophone, is not exactly a member of the ECM roster, but he has made several memorable appearances on the label. His first collaboration with Wasilewski’s trio sounds relaxed yet inspired. The trio, like their mentor Stanko, is best at atmospheric, jagged ballads. On Wasilewski compositions like “Glimmer of Hope” and “Old Hat,” Lovano both complements and extends the trio’s aesthetic domain. He plays these songs with deep feeling, but there is a sense of power in reserve, as if a champion weightlifter is painting watercolors. On other pieces, like “L’amour Fou,” Lovano’s natural aggression is not held back. He rivets Wasilewski’s complicated theme into place.

The most interesting tracks are the two takes of the only cover, Carla Bley’s “Vashkar.” The first version is longer and less literal. After Lovano introduces Bley’s suspenseful theme, Wasilewski opens up the song and spills it free. His solo is made up of transitory episodes that eventually coalesce into a beautiful, strange asymmetrical design. Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz, who have played with Wasilewski since high school, anticipate his every in-the-moment move.


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Marcin Wasilewski Remembers Tomasz Stanko

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.