Pianist Marcin Wasilewski hails from Poland, but he plays the kind of contemplative jazz most associate with Scandinavia. He and his trio have just released
, their second album for ECM Records.
On Thursday at Chris's Jazz Cafe, the group overcame obstacles to reach heights of pathos and creative union.
Crouched at the club's new Yamaha grand, Wasilewski began with Gary Peacock's haunting "Vignette" and a hard-swinging original called "My Standard," displaying plucky technique and doleful lyricism in equal measure.
But there was a problem: Members of an elementary school jazz band, oblivious and chatting noisily, occupied most of the seats in the house. Wasilewski tried his best to ignore them, but the music was practically swallowed, the tension palpable. Luckily, the mood lifted and the band began to flower after the kids cleared out halfway through the set.
Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Wiskiewicz, all in their 30s, have been playing together since their teens. They're best known as the backing band for the darkly ruminative trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, 65, one of Poland's most acclaimed players. Though they've recorded as a unit without Stanko for years, they broke through to international audiences with their ECM debut
At Chris's, they drew mainly from the new album. Stanko's "Balladyna" began deliberately, but soon had Wiskiewicz provoking the group into double-time. "Sister's Song," from
, assumed a new shape inspired by Ahmad Jamal's famed "Poinciana" rhythm, stressing Wasilewski's flair for romantic harmony and pop-informed phrase-making. The finale, in blistering swing time, occasioned an aggressive display of chops as convincing as it was out of character.
If one piece from
will endure, it is "The Cat," which Wasilewski prefaced live with the album's murky, out-of-tempo title cut. As the final two chords of "January" repeated and rang, Wiskiewicz struck up a groove with his hands rather than sticks, and "The Cat" emerged - cool, gliding chords in an elusive syncopated pattern, like a dance track from a time yet to come.