Konrad Wiszniewski/Euan Stevenson – New Focus
(WWR4629. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
New Focus was composed for jazz quartet, string quartet and harp by the impressive Euan Stevenson (piano and arrangements) and Konrad Wiszniewski (saxes), commissioned by the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, and inspired by Stan Getz’ orchestrated album Focus (his favourite of all his own recordings).
Wiszniewski’s opening Nicola’s Piece encapsulates the style: opening with the ebb and flow of the strings, luscious harp and rich cello theme, conjuring up Debussy’s orchestrations of Satie’s piano music. As Alyn Cosker’s demonstrative drumming picks up the tempo, it’s more like Kenny Wheeler’s Music for Large and Small Ensembles. It sounds like a big(ish) band, but with strings rather than horns, as the harmonised lines unfold sweetly, contrasting with Wiszniewski’s powerful Breckerish tenor solo. His tune For Ray alludes to Satie again in its piano intro, before the sax and strings alternately play the 7/4 theme.
The Glasgow String Qt. (violins: William Chandler & Jacquie Spears, viola: Ian Budd, cello: Betsy Taylor) are a solid unit and, unlike the 1961 Getz recording, rarely sound like a mere backdrop for the solo instruments.
The CD is beautifully-recorded and each instrument has a strong voice. Throughout the album there are subliminal suggestions of Scottish folk tunes, phrases on the tip of the tongue, and they’re numerous in the melody and sax solo here. Wiszniewski’s Illuminate is more highly-strung, funkier, with the jazz quartet more to the fore. Stevenson’s piano solo has enough beautiful phrases to engage us and enough unexpected notes to surprise us. He’s studied piano with Liam Noble and sometimes has the latter’s engaging trick of pushing a musical motif to see how far it’ll go. In contrast, Dziadzio (Grandfather) is a gentle Piazzolla-esque elegiac tango. Wiszniewski has a very affecting way of sliding up to the notes, into a dramatic long vibrato.
Two of Stevenson’s compositions begin with separate solo pieces: Intro is Michael Janisch’s expressive solo, every detail of the murmuring bass strings perfectly captured. In Interlude, Alina Bzhezhinska’s glittering harp fuses folk and classical elements, invoking the Celtic folk of Robin Williamson. Intro leads seamlessly into the pizzicato strings of El Paraiso, a melodramatic tango minor blues, with sweeping, sliding sax and violins. There’s a dance in there waiting to be choreographed. Interlude introduces Music For a Northern Mining Town, with rich Gershwin-esque orchestration and nostalgic mood, with opulent piano and soprano sax solos.
Stevenson has studied Classical composition, and Leonard’s Lament has the lushness of Delius. The strings are woven in with folk-edged soprano, and an uplifting bass and drum groove. In Parson’s Green, piano and harp improvise together in almost indistinguishable sumptuous lines, melting into an Afro-Cuban pulse with passionate Coltrane-edged tenor and a fizzing drum solo.
This is perfect festival fare: rich arrangements, memorable themes, fine playing and a unique mix of jazz, classical and folk. Wiszniewski says the band had a sense of euphoria after they’d played this music, and you can tell.
CD Launch: LJF, Tues. 13th Nov. 2012, Pizza Express, Dean St., London