Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson ‘New Focus’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Here is one of the freshest sounding jazz releases to come out of the UK in the past few years. It is the brainchild of Glasgow-based saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and Scottish pianist Euan Stevenson who were major discoveries at the 2011 Edinburgh Jazz Festival and also the 2012 edition of the London Jazz Festival. Both the title and music are inspired by the 1961 Stan Getz album ‘Focus’ which successfully fused jazz and classical genres with its creative use of strings, though the all-original compositions on the new recording are divided evenly between Stevenson (five) and Wiszniewski (four). Many other musicians have subsequently attempted to interweave the two distinct genres and with varying degrees of success. The more successful ones have up until now included among others Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman and Michel Petrucciani. With this new CD, Stevenson and Wiszniewski can justifiably belong to that exalted list in terms of finding a happy medium between classical and jazz and one that respects both traditions. What makes this new recording such a joy is that the classical elements do not get in the way of the jazz swinging. This is perfectly illustrated on the full-on power of the tenorist plus Glasgow String Quartet on the uptempo piece ‘Illuminate’ and on the wailin g number ‘El Paraiso’. A much gentler side to Wiszniewski can be heard on the delightful ‘For Ray’ with the former on soprano saxophone and Stevenson stretching out on piano with subtle use of strings. Another winner of a tune is ‘Music for a northern town’ with Wiszniewski once more on soprano. Euan Stevenson’s influences seem to range from Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson through to Debussy and Satie while Konrad Wiszniewski, who has performed with Gary Burton, Joe Lovano and John Scofield no less, comes across as a devotee of both Jan Garbarek and Stan Getz. An outstanding set of arrangements and execution of music from an extremely talented duo.

Tim Stenhouse