Back in the mid-1980s, the arrival on the jazz scene of a trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis marked the start of the so-called young lions" period. Marsalis, along with the like-minded Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove and several others, put a (slightly) fresh spin on jazz from the Miles Davis classic quartet years.
Some thought the music too reverent of its roots, lending it a kind of Museum of Classic Jazz" sound. Like a lot of easy generalization though, bits of truth were dropped on the floor. There were many, many moments (and suites!) of inspired play. Take, for example, Marsalis' Black Codes (From The Underground). The chemistry between Wynton's horn and Jeff Watts' thunderous kit play is stunning. The rest of that quintet, the late Kenny Kirkland on piano, Charnett Moffet (bass) and brother Branford on sax, let's face it: they burned. Though the music wasn't exactly revolutionary (Miles did start that revolution) it did serve one other extremely important function: it sparked a renewed interest in jazz in both the mind of the general public and more than a few record labels.
While Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz' Trio wasn't the start of a new young lions" movement, there were just enough parallels to make even a casual jazz fan take notice.
If you aren't familiar with their story, here's the short version: Polish trumpet legend Tomasz Stanko's rhythm section cancels on a gig. Michal Miskiewicz was asked to fill in, and to suggest a band as well. Enter Marcin Wasilewski (piano) and Slawomir Kurkiewicz (double-bass). It was an important turning point in the careers of both Stanko and the trio in that Stanko had discoved his ultimate support group while that very same support group was given a chance to shine on their own.
And shine they did, touring their native Poland as the Simple Acoustic Trio. Then the world got to see what they could do on Trio.
After making a single pass through this record, the young lions" scenario of old came to mind. Not so much because these guys are content to mine the past (which they definitely do not) but because they seem to be able to make fresh the trio format by reveling in modern improvised music (there are several purely improvised pieces here), pop music (a very cool take on Bjork's Hyperballad") and more traditional forms (including Wayne Shorter's Plaza Real" and Tomasz Stanko's Green Sky").
Sure, you say, but weren't other groups doing this kind of thing in 2005? The Bad Plus? Charlie Hunter? Brad Mehldau? Well, yes and no. Yes, because all of those groups do like to transform modern pop forms. No, because the Simple Acoustic Trio is as much about being a unit as anything else. What's most surprising about these guys is how young they are ... and how well they play together given their ages (when they were recruited by Stanko in 1993 their average age was 17). Seriously, I'd put this Trio right up against ECM's 'flagship' trio of Jarrett, DeJohnette and Peacock. Their improvised pieces carry that hallmark of inspired triology: they appear to complete each other's musical thoughts. On Free Combinations For Three Instruments," Kurkiewicz starts things off with a knotty bass excursion before Wasilewski's piano adds to the conversation. When Miskiewicz' dark and rolling toms join in the medition coalesces into what seems like a mysterious, yet effortless discussion. Quite the trick.
Jazz is supposed to be America's Classical Music." The reasons for its lack of support here (vs. pop, rock and other forms) are multiple and complex. I'm not here to say that this group (or any other) started another revolution. But did they leave their mark in the jazz world?
They certainly did.