Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Live (ECM)

Review of a 2016 festival recording by the Polish piano trio

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Cover of Marcin Wasilewski Trio album Live

As this review is written, sad news of the death of Tomasz Stanko is still fresh. The Marcin Wasilewski Trio, with bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, was introduced to the world in 2002, on Stanko’s ECM album Soul of Things. They were young and unknown then. Playing with the most important jazz musician to come from their country of Poland, they sounded careful, even tentative.

Over two more Stanko albums, Suspended Night (2004) and Lontano (2006), it became apparent why Stanko believed in them, and what he had taught them. These three, like Stanko, understood that the darkness of silence can be as much a part of the music as the light that musicians selectively impose upon silence.

They have now made five albums of their own for ECM, and have become one of the most creative and stable piano trios in jazz. They are all in their early forties but have been together for 25 years. Live was recorded in 2016 at a concert for 4,000 people at the Jazz Middelheim festival in Antwerp, Belgium. It contains an epic engagement with the Police’s “Message in a Bottle.” For this trio’s generation, songs by Sting are standards. Upon his catchy ditty of 1980-pop consciousness, they unleash jazz energy in torrents: wildly skittering piano, drum detonations, a swirling bass solo.

There are tracks here, like “Three Reflections” and “Austin,” that contain the haunting fragmentary lyricism and pensive, nocturnal Stanko-esque atmospheres of their previous four ECM albums. But more often, before a large, loud crowd, they choose to burn. This trio is no longer tentative. Pieces like “Night Train to You” and Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” display their chops and cohesion, but not their magic. In current jazz, chops and cohesion are not in short supply. Magic always is.

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