Category Archives: Jazz

“Spark of Life”: Marcin Wasilewski Trio & Joakim Milder

The new ECM release, “Spark of Life” is the second extraordinary project for the Marcin Wasilewski Trio this year, showcased earlier with lead guitarist Jacob Young on the multi-dimensional recording, “Forever Young”.   The new recording, their fourth,  continues the trio’s evolution while maintaining the alluring

"Spark of Life"

“Spark of Life”

melodic stories that began with the first “Trio” CD.   Here, on several pieces, they collaborate with tenor saxophonist Joakim Milder, who gained recognition in his work at ECM with the late trumpet player, Tomaz Stanko.  Admittedly a fan of their musical style,  this current release is nearly flawless, especially the empowering percussion of  Michal Miskiewicz.

The album opens with “Austin,” a beautiful tribute to the late young prodigy, Austin Peralta where Wasilewski’s haunting melody is precisely  augmented, showcasing their skills in the trio format.  Marcin’s soulful finish is exquisitely  enhanced by the percussive work of Miskiewicz, foreshadowing his brilliance.  Wasilewski contributed five other original compositions, with “Three Reflections”and the alternate version of the title tune continuing to exhibit the trio.

Milder’s deft integration with the group is first presented on “Sudovian Dance”…his solos seem effortlessly woven within the trio, allowing for individual expression but often syncopated.  Listen carefully d43fd9d24bd22fd5019d7ab7035129ef38cf1adaas the piano brilliantly interplays with the other instruments.

Two disparate versions of “Spark of Life” are presented in both quartet and trio format.   It would have been a mistake to choose  one.  While Milder’s tenor adds a dimension to the composition, the interplay of Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz always binds this beautifully melodic, yet evocative free composition.

No better way to showcase the trio’s intensity than a brisk version of Sting’s castaway tale, “Message in a Bottle.”  This is straight ahead, uptempo jazz as bassist Slavomir Kurkiewicz delivers an impressive transition to some highly energetic interplay between Wasilewski and Miskiewicz.  Enjoy this ride!



The most alluring quartet piece is a ballad from a Polish grunge-rock band named “Hey.”     I will not attempt to interpret, just know that  “Do Rycerzy, do Szalchty, do Mieszcan”  is probably the most accessible piece of the recording, melodically delicate, but featuring some fine improv work by all.

Krzysztof Komeda, the revered Polish jazz musician/composer, is known for composing the music for Roman Polanski’s 1968 film, “Rosemary’s Baby.”   Komeda who died in 1969 at age 38, is also credited with bridging US and European jazz during that time period.

The groups rendition of  Komeda’s “Sleep, Safe and Warm,” from the film, leads with the trio before Milder’s tenor sound transports us to the seashore in a 1960s black and white European film.  Beautiful piano-tenor interplay, a notable bass solo, all driven by Miskiewicz who controls the tempo (or tempos).



There are two pieces reminiscent of past Herbie Hancock groups, the later composed by the piano master.   “Still” has the appearance of a modern take on music from the quintessential Blue Note recordings like  “Maiden Voyage,” an anthem of my early exploration of jazz.  Herbie’s distinctive style is evident on “Actual Proof” with Miskiewicz’s skillful performance seemingly paying homage to drummer Tony William’s great work with those early groups.

Each release of this group has explored new, innovative territory and it has been a joy to experience their musical evolution, including their extensive work with

"Forever Young"

“Forever Young”

Manu Katche’.  To my viewpoint, “Spark of Life” and  “Forever Young” are two of the most significant jazz releases from ECM or any other label in 2014,  though I am nothing more than an expert in my own taste.

New Jazz is Global

From someone who grew up musically listening to the “cool” of Miles Davis and Bill Evan’s ballads, our shrinking planet and global influence becomes clear as I anxiously await new releases from a young Polish pianist and a Norwegian trumpet player, both leading accomplished musicians in 21st Century renditions of trio and ensemble improvisational formats.  ECM’s Manfred Eicher continues to discover great artists that push the envelope by sustaining jazz improvisation to an expanding universal musical palate.  Pianist Marcin Wasilewski and trumpeter Mathias Eick are contemporary jazz musicians whose diverse musical influences

Marcin Waslewski (p), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (b), Michal Miskiewicz (d)

Marcin Waslewski (p), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (b), Michal Miskiewicz (d)

create a new sound that transcends labels.

Wasilewski, along with double bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, burst onto the

"January" - Marcin Wasilewski Trio

“January” – Marcin Wasilewski Trio

European jazz scene through work with trumpet player Tomasz Stanko and French drummer Manu Katche’s band.   The group’s intensity and lyricism were first revealed in the 2005 release, “Simple Acoustic Trio,”  with Marcin achieving melodic heights similar to Keith Jarrett and leading a trio that evokes memories of Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, some fifty years ago.  The composition, “Plaza Real” clearly illustrates theses influences integrated into their own style, both accessible and edgy.   The groups 2007 recording “January,” expanded their recognition and introduced their music to a receptive U.S. audience.  Two original pieces, “First Touch” and “Vignette“, further display the subtle intensity that enhances Wasilewski’s penetrating sound.

For these reasons, word that the Marcin Wasilewski Trio’s third recording, “Faithful” would soon be available pushed me into “Musical Anticipation Mode,”

"Faithful" - Marcin Wasilewski Trio

“Faithful” – Marcin Wasilewski Trio

unable to think of much else until I could hear it.  Previewing “Faithful” on a train from Milan to Lake Como, in a relaxed state,  opens one up to the complexities of their music.  Relaxed state of not, this release exceeded my expectations.

The title track, Ornette Coleman’s “Faithful” is presented as an anthem, reminiscent of Coltrane’s “Naima.”  The melodic piano improvisations have a haunting edge, highlighted by some ornate interplay between Wasilewski and Kaurkiewicz.  The magnetic “Night Train to You,”  is driven from start to finish with hints of swing and  techno-bluesy improvisation that puts Wasilewski among the most talented pianists out there, aptly supported by very defined double bass and percussion.  The somber piano introduction on the original, “Song for Swirek,” evolves into straight ahead jazz with the trio’s trademark high lyrical content.

This group is not shy about interpreting music from other composers including pianist Paul Bley, Brazilian composer Hermento Pascoal and the  hauntingly beautiful  “An den kleinen Radioappart,” composed originally by Hanns Eisler for classical voice.

Amidst great piano trio work emerging from young european and U.S. artists, none surpass the raw talent and innovation of the Marcin Wasilewski Trio and “Faithful” captures them at the top of their game.

Attempting to label the music of Mathias Eick into a specific genre is an unnecessary waste of time.  The irony is that one of his new compositions, “Joni,” is a

Mathias Eick

Mathias Eick

tribute to the great Joni Mitchell, who decades ago, shattered stereotypes when she recorded her folksy, self-reflective tales with jazz artists like Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock.  Eick’s understated horn and musical range is celebrated in the ECM disc, “Skala,”  a new ensemble with eight original compositions. Another example of Eick’s diverse genre style is “Biermann,” which opens with passive piano and trumpet lyrics that evolve to a crescendo that one

"The Door" - Mathias Eick

“The Door” – Mathias Eick

might find at a live “Sting” concert.

Before his first release as a composer/leader, “The Door,”  Mathias Eick  refined his craft by working in unique ensembles for pianist Iro Haarla, guitarist Jacob Young and Manu Katche’.  In “Skala,” he experiments with two drummers and adds tenor saxophonist, Tore Brunborg and keyboardist Morten Qvenild, giving

"Skala" - Mathias Eick

“Skala” – Mathias Eick

depth to his lyrical style.  The stylized piano of Andeas Ulvo interplays beautifully with both horns, adding a nice, jazz richness to each piece.

From the sleek title piece, “Skala” through the uptempo “Edinburgh,” Mathias Eick’s compositions and unique trumpet sound will continue to expose his modern musical poems to a broader audience searching for “new.”  I have come to depend on him to deliver just that.