Konrad Wiszniewski & Euan Stevenson – “New Focus”


Konrad Wiszniewski & Euan Stevenson - "New Focus"I’m always delighted when musicians take common ingredients and create something refreshingly new and exciting.  On New Focus, saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and pianist Euan Stevenson blend Jazz, Classical, and Pop musics.  This is nothing that hasn’t been done before.  But by employing the just-right equation of inspired compositions and lovely group improvisation, they offer a recording that is delightfully uplifting, even breathtaking at times, and possesses a sense of something original, something new, even if the album’s building blocks are tried and true.

It’s the kind of thing that dazzles via the possibilities of taking what is ordinary and making it special.

Your album personnel:  Konrad Wiszniewski (saxes & compositions), Euan Stevenson (piano, compositions & arrangements), Alina Bzhezhinska (harp), Michael Janisch (double bass), Alyn Cosker (drums), and the Glasgow String Quartet: William Chandler (violin), Jacqueline Speirs (violin), Ian Budd (viola), and Betsy Taylor (cello).

I like that the album opens with strings.  On “Nicola’s Piece,” the Glasgow String Quartet begins with a captivating cello line atop quavering violin notes.  Bzhezhinska and Janisch then enter on harp and bass, providing some slight contrast at the upper and lower registers, and some nuance to the rhythm.  Wiszniewski’s sax picks up where cello left off and takes the song aloft to a higher elevation.  Cosker’s drumwork is the flapping of wings.

And, actually, I could go on all day with the flying metaphors.  This is one of those albums.  Lots of soaring moments, of songs looking down from great heights.  For instance, on “Music for a Northern Mining Town,” strings are a gentle breeze propelling the tune forward.  Stevenson’s piano missives are effortless in flight, while sax offers long slow sight lines.

But that’s not all there is to this album.  For instance, the interplay between sax and strings on “El Paraiso,” each pretending to be disinterested in one another, yet bonded by the smokey glances directed at one another when they think nobody’s looking.  Strings sometimes sway woozily, sometimes prance sprightly across the room.  This is movie scene music, for when two lovers first become aware of the other.  Interplay.

I’ve mostly talked about the slower pieces thus far, but there’s a nice offering of up-tempo pieces, too.   On “Illuminate,” drums keep things close to the ground and moving straight ahead, piano paralleling its trajectory.  Sax gets chippy, but stays in line with the rest of the ensemble.  A group effort.  And “Parson’s Green” sends the album out with a bang.

“Leonard’s Lament” is the most song-like of the album tracks.  One of those rich melodies that sounds inviting each time it’s restated.  Sax really drives the melody, but piano adds nuance via counterpoint, and thus melodic depth.  When Cosker shifts on drums from accompaniment to foil, it provides for some tiny fireworks to end the song on a thrilling note, and brings a strong rhythmic quality to a song that was already strong melodically.

Just a fine album, and one of the highlights of 2012.

Released on the Whirlwind Recordings label.

Jazz from the Glasgow, Scotland scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD