The young Polish trio of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums) has been accompanying the venerable trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, one of the best and best-respected figures in European jazz, for 12 years now. The level of comfort these musicians have built up together during that time was evident in their seamless, polished performance last Thursday night at New York's Birdland, the second show in an 11-city tour across the U.S. (dates here). The trio played with liquid assurance, and Stanko's warm, human sound flowed through like a fish in his familiar pond, the master of a carefully controlled space. But the same comfort that made the set so tight also made it somewhat boring: There were no surprises, no moments of transcendence, and despite some extraordinarily fleet and imaginative soloing by Wasilewski the trio came across as somewhat complacent, unadventurous and just a little bit bored.
That's far from the case on Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz's wonderful new record "Trio," their first international release without Stanko at the helm. Like so many European jazz pianists, Wasilewski is heavily (at times it seems exclusively) influenced by Keith Jarrett, and the most crucial lesson he has learned from Jarrett is how to give a sense of spaciousness to even the densest harmonic playing, spiriting the chromatic edginess out of jazz harmonies without losing any of the complexity. An expansive sense of space is central to the appeal of this record, and the three musicians are at their best when they bring the tempos way down and focus all their energy on creating it. The four group improvisations are particularly beautiful: spare, focused and approaching the floating, suspended improvisational elegance of the Tethered Moon trio (Masabumi Kikuchi, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian).
I was skeptical to see that they perform a cover of Björk's "Hyperballad," but much to my surprise, it's the best track on the record. They capture the sense of hopefulness in the original, but this version is perfectly placid, a place of stillness, absolute calm and exquisite tenderness. "Trio" is out now on ECM records, and is the loveliest piano trio debut in years.