Within the hidden treasure that’s the London Jazz Festival (13 – 22 November) is the gemlike Polish Jazz Festival, which featured the Marcin Wasilewski Trio at the Guildhall School music hall on Sunday 15th November. The Polish trio – not content with merely playing at this renowned London venue – stepped up their pan-European jazz credentials by featuring the Swedish Saxophonist Joakim Milder, with whom they collaborated with on their fourth studio album Spark of Life. The Marcin Wasilewski Trio are the pianist Marcin Wasilewski, double bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and percussionist Michał Miśkiewicz.
Having been prepped for an evening of supreme piano jazz by the American Jazz ensemble Helen Sung Quartet, Marcin Wasilewski Trio completed the evening’s double bill of sublime music with an eclectic set. Opening with a mellow performance of their Spark of Life title-track they set our anticipations aflutter while managing to keep back a surprise. What followed was a masterfully embellished version of Sting’s Message in a Bottle which, though richly improvised, retained its signature familiarity. The Trio’s take on this 80s pop classic was infused with a Latin flavour which, in spite of the sober and salubrious setting of the music hall, made you wish you could get up and dance. The trio’s effort was nicely crowned with Kurkiewicz’s double bass solo.
Having been making music together for 20 years, the efforts of each member of the trio could not but blend together – the wonder was listening to how guest saxophonist Milder swung, swayed and fell in with their rhythm and tempo. Milder’s contribution was simultaneously distinctive and complimentary. The other marvel was watching Wasilewski play the piano – you simply listened with your eyes and saw with your ears. Invoking shapes with the piano, Wasilewski, even with mellow tunes, seemed to hit the keys with his whole being, his seat scarcely able to contain him. This audio-visual display translated into an emotionally charged atmosphere – it was only the stately air of the wood-panelled hall that kept us in our seats.
The trio’s set was a journey through the distinctive bands in the jazz spectrum. From the mellow, we melted into the Latin and, without missing a beat, were transported into a folksy trotting tune. There was more to come with improvisations in which Milder’s saxophone invoked a blissful night while each member of the trio in turn mimicked nature, transporting us to a nocturnal forest where we basked in the ensemble’s primal notes. We were also treated to a ballad built around the piano acting as vocalist. The accomplished ensemble polished off their set on a high with Herbie Hancock’s jazz-funk classic Actual Proof.
Of course, after such a session the delighted crowd wasn’t going to let the ensemble off for the night so easily. The audience bayed for an encore and they got one. Marcin Wasilewski Trio & Joakim Milder not only succumbed to their appreciative fans but also finally embraced the Atlantic smooth jazz brand they’d only hinted at through their set – but then, given the presence of the saxophone, one smooth jazz track was perhaps inevitable. And anyway, who says sophisticated music hall jazz need be lofty all the time?
The Marcin Wasilewski Trio & Joakim Milder appeared as part of the London Jazz Festival 2015 (13th – 22nd November), supported by the Polish Cultural Institute, London.