Marcin Wasilewski: From Simple Acoustic Trio to Tomasz Stanko
Even before Wasilewski received the call that would change the lives of everyone in the trio, they were very familiar with the name Tomasz Stanko. "I knew of Tomasz," says Wasilewski, "who was the best, most interesting trumpet player in Poland; his music was just so special. I saw him on TV when he played with Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley, an extraordinary quartet. I was thinking how different his music was, somewhere between free jazz and more traditional jazz, it was so strange for me. I loved his music, it was really magical and so different than what we played at the workshops where we were studying we were playing mostly standards which, of course, are still a very good basis for doing anything in jazz.
"Meeting him has been the best way for us to learn and experience jazz on stage," continues Wasilewski, "in a live situation, and with such an experienced musician and composer. It all happened very quickly, I was 18 years old when we first played together and I was really stressed. I'd been playing mainly standards and his music was completely different. He likes to alter chords a lot, and his music is much more difficult to play. In the early days we would sometimes play completely freely and I would wonder, 'what is this, what do I have to play?' and now I know it was jazz"
While working with Stanko gave Wasilewski the opportunity to evolve at a rapid pace, the association also gave him the chance to play with other significant musicians. "Thanks to Tomasz," explains Wasilewski, "we had the opportunity to play occasional concerts with artists like John Surman. In '98 we played at the Jazz Jamboree Festival in Warsaw, and it was a great experience. We played between John Scofield and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, it was a huge crowd and we played really well. It was a lot of fun to play with John Surman, but sadly it was only the one concert. I also replaced Bobo Stenson with Stanko's Litania one time, with Jon Christensen and Palle Danielsson. Again it was too brief an experience, only a 45 minute set, but it helped my playing."
Remarkably, and as Stanko himself has recounted in a recent interview, there was little in the way of explicit instruction. "At the beginning it was straight into concerts," Wasilewski says. "We had a one hour rehearsal before we played our first concert. But this show really had something, and I guess Tomasz felt that way too, because we started to play more gigs in Poland because he toured outside the country with his international ensembles and we weren't really ready to play with him on big stages at the international festivals.
"Quite simply, he provided the opportunity for us to play with him," continues Wasilewski. "Different projects, recording sessions, touring, playing on big stages at important festivals; this was how we learned. And through it all, Stanko taught us to play freely. He's such a specialist at playing beyond the music, over the music he's completely different than any other musician.
"You have to study on your own," concludes Wasilewski, "and learn things yourself. Of course when you play with better musicians you learn quicker, and that's how Tomasz helped us. It took a couple of years, but the band played better and better, until we ultimately recorded our first CD with Stanko Soul of Things in '01, and it's still one of the most important things to ever happen to us."
Manfred Eicher and Trio
Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz would go on to record a follow-up with Stanko, '04's Suspended Night. But while Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz were gaining ground over the years with Stanko, they continued to play and record as Simple Acoustic Trio, releasing a number of albums in Poland, including '00's Habanera a strong, albeit more direct album that is clearly suggestive of things to come. But it has been the opportunity, in addition to Stanko, to work with ECM label owner/producer Manfred Eicher that has seen the trio truly emerge with their own identity, so evident on their first ECM release, Trio. "Meeting and working with Manfred has changed our approach to doing music in the studio," says Wasilewski, "and you can hear it. We used to play harder, more offensively, and that's not necessarily better or worse. But we learned, from Manfred, that sometimes it's better to play more softly, so the sound of the piano is more open; when you're not pushing the piano so hard the sound is rounder and much better.