LJF 2019: Marcin Wasilewski Trio

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Marcin Wasilewski. Photo by John Watson

Pianist Marcin Wasilewski’s trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz on double bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums, started its ECM life in 2005 with a quietly understated debut that barely moved beyond a slow shuffle or rose much above a whisper. Theirs was archetypal chamber jazz, polite, precise, quiet, and intense. Three more trio sets later, however, their fifth, live set from Antwerp in 2016 revealed a far more energised band, one more than willing to turn up the dial and kick up its feet a little. It was that band that was on parade this evening.

The concert itself marked the 25th anniversary of the trio, founded as the Simple Acoustic Trio in 1994 and which then became trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s rhythm section in 2001. In that time, they have slowly become one of the Europe’s most important jazz trios, noted for their restrained classicism and impeccable improvisatory talents.

In tonight’s concert they played a mix of new, as yet unnamed pieces, a Stanko piece (Green Sky?), a rollicking Night Train To You, first debuted on 2001’s Faithful and later revisited on the live set, Austin from their 2014 set Spark of Life with tenor saxophonist Joakim Milder, and ending with what is quickly becoming their signature piece, the barnstorming Actual Proof from Herbie Hancock’s 1974 jazz-funk set Thrust.

On each piece, they played with a quietly expressive sense of adventure, the modal piano vamps blossoming into vibrant bursts of classical grandeur before moving on with a simple but effective melodic line. Lots of tuneful light and shade, but lots of rhythmic dynamism, too. Pianist Marcin Wasilewski is fascinating to watch, his right arm often held high above the keyboard waiting to pounce back when needed, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz an extraordinary tuneful player with a warm, resonant approach. Their equal third member, drummer Michal Miskiewicz, is certainly not just a timekeeper, his interventions an essential commentary on and contribution to proceedings elsewhere. The full house deservedly gave the band consistent support, and a standing ovation that got us the encore we all deserved.

Support act was the solo pianist Fred Thomas, a creative re-interpreter of Wagner preludes and love songs, a Bach Sarabande, and short pieces by Weber and Kurtag alongside a reworked Stella By Starlight and a couple of his own compositions. His recital suited the formality of the Cadogan Hall, but it made for a thoughtful, if intense opening to proceedings.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio plus Fred Thomas. Cadogan Hall, London SW1, Friday 15 November 2019 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.