BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Critics of ECM Records often complain of a seemingly label-wide aesthetic for its jazz, one that prefers mellow melodics over intense improvisation, sweet over savory – a sound that anticipated and inspired the deadly “new age” music of the ‘80s. While it’s grossly unfair to paint every ECM artist with that hue (cf. Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie, Steve Tibbetts), there’s some truth to the accusation, especially when pondering the catalogs of many of the label’s European sons and daughters.
Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski Trio, with guest saxophonist Joakim Milder, stands accused on Spark of Life Taking pages from the books of Vince Guaraldi and the lighter side of Dave Brubeck, pianist Wasilewski emphasizes major chord melodies and a late evening/candlelight dinner vibe rather than fiery improv. That’s not to say the musicians don’t know when to move. “Still” actually belies its title with a busy rhythm section, while frisky covers of Herbie Hancock’s“Actual Proof” and the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” throw sparks. But most tracks work a much more romantic and mellifluent vibe a la opener “Austin,” the appropriately named “Sleep Safe and Warm” (taken from the Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack) and the ultra amorous cover of Polish pop group Hey’s “Do rycerzy, do szlachty, do mieszczan” (“For knights, for gentry, for townsmen”).
At nearly 75 minutes, that’s a lot of sugar in your spiced wine, and mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for being in a consistently mellow mood. But if you’re looking for background music to entice your sweety in front of the fireplace, Spark of Life will serve quite nicely.
DOWNLOAD: “Message in a Bottle,” “Still,” “Do rycerzy, do szlachty, do mieszczan”