Franciszak Raczkowski Trio

Apprentice
Fortune Records 066 (0042)

Sumrrá

5 Journeys

Clermont Music CLE 015 CD

Trying to avoid geographic stereotypes, it still appears that climatic conditions may account for the independent ways in which these ensembles have evolved originals takes on the ongoing Jazz piano trio tradition. Based in the Galícia region of Spain, Sumrrá, consisting of pianist Manuel Gutiérrez, bassist Xacobe Martinez Antelo and drummer LAR Legido attack seven original compositions with the fiery heat you would expect from a summer day in the peninsula. Meanwhile the Polish trio headed by pianist Franciszek Raczkowski, including bassist Paweł Wszołek and drummer Piotr Budniak ranges through the keyboardist’s seven compositions as if experiencing as if reflecting the weather in November day in Warsaw.

Veterans of the scene, Sumrrá’s fifth CD after 15 years together was recorded live and exhortations from the stage and audience reflect the tumult and shouting that goes into the performance here. Far from reflecting the culture of mañana, there are as few reflective moments as one would experience at a Tokyo rush hour. Serendipitously enough, Antelo’s four tunes and the three by Gutiérrez were inspired by cities in three continents.

Treading the fine line between showy and show-off, Gutiérrez often comes across as a variant of Oscar Peterson at his most splendiferous. Also like the Canadian’s later trio work, 5 Journeys frequently could be construed as a duet between pianist and drummer, with the bassist providing the necessary transitions and modulations. As early as “Sofía”, the first track, that the performance evokes a combination of gospel-like swing and Balkan dance rhythms, with the drummer’s spatial response rock-styled back beats. Compression is somewhat relieved by Antelo’s ringing lines, presaging piano variation that link to the introduction. Legido, whose experience as sound researcher encompasses less structured improvisations, shows on pieces such as his own “Santa Cruz” and Gutiérrez’s “Pretoria” that he isn’t confined to playing standard rhythm. On the latter, coming across like an Iberian Han Bennink or Baby Sommer his stick work shatters the beat into bent and crooked fragments as the pianist, with the seemingly effortless jab of a prize fighter, repeatedly punches exploding glissandi into an exciting congruent line. Breaking down his attack into separate beats with various speeds and sounds he joins upfront bass thumps and modal chording from the pianist to enliven the tune so that it’s moderato while moving effectively.

“La Paz” confirms that Sumrrá can also operate at balladic speed, with someone making bird-like noises in the background and thickened bass strings and piano keys locking into a near-variant of “Autumn Leaves”. Still the defining track is probably Antelo’s “Johannesbourg” as non-South African as it sounds. Advancing with pep due in no small part to the bassist’s guitar-like plinks, Gutiérrez’s initial note piling soon relaxes into romantic elation and movement propelled by Legido’s scrupulously timed cymbal cracks and climaxes with the feeling that a Spanish fiesta is being held on the African veld.

Apparently a maiden voyage, with a giveaway title, Apprentice appears to have as much in common with 5 Journeys as a mazurka does with flamenco. Gentler and more anodyne than what Sumrrá proposes, Raczkowski’s compositions appear more inner-directed, geographically as well as lyrically. If the Spaniards could be following in the footsteps of Columbus, than the other trio suggests a Krakow-Warsaw train ride may be an adventure. On the other hand the pianist shows genuine promise as a composer, like a guild craftsman using all the tools on hand to construct tracks that encompass classical tropes as well as rhythmic impetus. But like trying to warm up a Polish apartment without post-Communist sophisticated central heating, once elaborated the heat generated by the pieces is fitful. Moving as slowly and unperturbed as Krakow’s Vistual River, pieces like “112”, “Fis” and “Beggin’ for Rain” eventually combine their tributaries enough to reach a swing model, but the movement appears formal with more speed than soul. At least the piano lines are sprightly enough to make it seem as if Raczkowsk is pressing electric piano keys on “112”, yet even when he dips into higher registers the effect is more flowery than firm.

Along with the occasional pop where he approximates congas, Budniak’s drumming is mostly a collection of pliable cracks and clatters, necessary to moor the pianist’s frequently floating tones, but more on the wimp than the strongman side of the equation. Wszołek in contrast puts his spiccato tones, twangs and stops to good use to beef up the performances. Oddly though, on “The Rain” for instance, when the polite swing could be hardened into a snapper exposition, it appears that the tune fades away before the bass solo is completed.

On the evidence from 5 Journeys, the three Amigos are acutely ready for prime time, especially North American exposure. Meanwhile Apprentice is truth in packaging. The outlines of musical expansion are there. The next album(s) will demonstrate the trio’s future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Journeys: 1. Sofía 2. Paris 3. Johannesbourg 4. Braga 5. Santa Cruz 6. La Paz 7. Pretoria

Personnel: Journeys: Manuel Gutiérrez (piano); Xacobe Martinez Antelo (bass) and LAR Legido (drums)

Track Listing: Apprentice: 1. 5/8 2. 112 3. 3. White Rain 4. The Rain 5. Farika 6. Fis 7. Beggin’ for Rain

Personnel: Apprentice: Franciszek Raczkowski (piano); Paweł Wszołek (bass) and Piotr Budniak (drums)