One thing I’ve noticed about Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski Trio is that the first track on their albums is always a stunner. “Trio Conversation/Hyperballad” from 2005’s “Trio”, “The First Touch” from 2008’s “January”, “An den kleinen Radioapparat” from 2011’s “Faithful”, “Austin” from 2014’s “Spark of Life” and “Spark of Life/Sudovian Dance” from their 2018 “Live” album. “Arctic Riff” is no different, the opening tune “Glimmer of Hope” being one of the most touching and emotive pieces of music I’ve heard this year.
Long established as one of ECM’s finest, most consistent piano-led trios, they rarely disappoint. Perhaps underrated for some years, they have quietly been producing wonderful music together since the early 90’s when pianist Wasilewski first established a musical partnership with bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz. Tomasz Stanko first mentored the group before recruiting the trio as his working band in 2001. Since then the trio have gone from strength to strength, producing some incredible music along the way.
“Arctic Riff” sees the first-time creative teaming for the trio with US tenorist Joe Lovano. This isn’t the first time the trio has morphed into a quartet, with Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder joining the trio on their “Spark of Life” album. Milder was well suited to the trio’s style and the recording was at times breathtakingly beautiful. With Joe Lovano though, his presence and style takes the band into some welcome new directions. It’s clear to hear on this recording the influence Lovano has had, with a more adventurous path being explored than on the trio’s previous albums.
Wasilewski and Lovano share the writing credits here, and the whole album does, in fact, feel like a very collaborative effort. Tracks such as the opener “Glimmer of Hope” and “Fading Sorrow” have the trio’s lyrical stamp all over them, whilst “Cadenza”, “Stray Cat Walk” and “On The Other Side” are very clearly far more collaborative with Lovano’s own inimitable style shining through. Carla Bley’s “Vashkar” takes the quartet into more unfamiliar territory, with Lovano bearing down authoritatively on the melody before the Polish trio unravel some the tune’s finer implications.
Overall, “Arctic Riff” is yet another richly rewarding album from the trio. Lovano adds his presence in a very positive way, with some delightfully intuitive, melodic and lyrical music flowing freely throughout the entire session. Not since ECM released the Steve Kuhn Trio / Joe Lovano album “Mostly Coltrane” have I enjoyed Lovano’s input so much on an ECM recording. Splendid stuff indeed.