Starting at the beginning of this year, Krzysztof Medyna and Andrzej Winnicki (Komeda Project alumni), set out to put a new and entirely different project together. So, the WM Project was born. In March they got a bunch of amazing New York City musicians together to record a new CD. Here's the line-up: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet (five-time DownBeat & Jazz Journalists Association Rising Star Award winner), Marshall Gilkes on trombone (awarded a title of a Rising Star in the latest DownBeat Magazine critics poll and a double 2016 Grammy nominee), Krzysztof Medyna (Komeda Project alumnus) on tenor sax, Rafal Sarnecki on guitar, Andrzej Winnicki (Komeda Project alumnus) on piano, Jeff Dingler on bass and Michael Winnicki on drums.
It contains two widely known standards: "Mercy, Mercy Mercy" by Joe Zawinul and "Take Five" by Paul Desmond (of Dave Brubeck Quartet fame) as well as 7 originals.
While WM Project is a brand-new constellation, the musical masterminds behind it, pianist Andrzej Winnicki and tenor saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna, go back a long way. In the 90's, they have played together in the fusion group Electric Breakwater ("In the Bush" CD with Mark Egan on bass and Rodney Holmes on drums), and have furthered appreciation of Polish composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda through their widely acclaimed Komeda Project. KP's "Requiem", featuring bassist Scott Colley, drummer Nasheet Waits and trumpeter Russ Johnson, made the list of Top New Albums in The Village Voice Critics Poll: 2009.
Now the time is ripe for another beginning. Their new album From a Familiar Place is a personal project for Winnicki and Medyna whose surnames are ingrained in the name: WM Project. The music sums up a long life lived with jazz, but also looks forward to the future. Winnicki’s own son, Michael Winnicki, is a highly talented drummer and brings youthful energy to original compositions and classics like Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” and Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”. In fact, rhythm is the essence of the group, as Medyna explains: “"The only thing I care about is groove which we have in both re-worked tunes. We need to stay in tune with the African-American roots of jazz".
These roots of rhythm also include hip-hop that provided inspiration for the grooves used on the tunes. As Winnicki says: “Arrangements for both ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and ‘Take Five’ started with a groove. Just a drum groove to be exact. I don't actively listen to hip-hop music at all, but it's hard not to be aware of its impact on the culture of today. So consciously or subconsciously I was drawn into the hip-hop beats when looking for the fresh sounding grooves I could use to build my arrangements upon.”
Another influence is the inclusion of five-time DownBeat & Jazz Journalists Association Rising Star Award winner trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and 2016 double Grammy nominated trombonist Marshall Gilkes. As Winnicki explains: “Krzysztof, Michael and I all played gigs with Jeremy and Marshall before so we were very comfortable with how they played and some of the arrangements I wrote were done with them in mind (because of their musical personalities). Jeremy is so deeply rooted in the tradition of this great American art form and plays in such a soulful way. Marshall's command of his instrument is just amazing (no wonder he was awarded a name of Rising Star in the latest DownBeat Magazine Poll). I knew no matter how hard the arrangement he would execute it flawlessly and play some great solos to boot.”
The group also includes the melodic dexterity of guitarist Rafal Sarnecki while bassist Jeff Dingler and Michael Winnicki form the rhythm section. Elaborating on their connection, Andrzej Winnicki says: “Jeff and Michael have been playing in different projects together since their time at the Mason Gross School of Arts. They understand and complement each other musically really well so the choice of the rhythm section was easy to make.”
The most striking proof of their ability to communicate together is “Praeludium” whose complex tapestry of odd rhythm and a catchy theme sounds tightly rehearsed, but is in fact unfolding live for the first time in the studio with Gilkes and Sarnecki delivering glistering solo flights. From a Familiar Place was recorded in Tom Tedesco’s Tedesco Studios and there is a feeling of warmth and spontaneity to the recording like a classic Blue Note-recording, which is supported by the intimacy of the studio and very little separation between the musicians.
It all adds up to a family of musicians playing modern jazz with strong ties to tradition. A tune like “On Sunday after Church” has subtle shades of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” with Pelt shaping the melody with his lucid lines, but Medyna and Winnicki also engage with their own catalog, performing reimagined versions of Electric Breakwater compositions “Blind Warriors” and “Looking Ahead”.
Looking ahead while also looking back is exactly what the album is about. The familiar place of the title is not a comfort zone of nostalgia, but a challenging source of creativity, as Medyna says: “All of us have a kind of ‘familiar place’ in our memories, desires or places left on the path of our lives. To me this title must stimulate the listener's individual imagination and the music shall take the listener to such familiar place."
With this album, WM Project shows the boundless possibilities of a deep understanding of jazz tradition resulting in memorable grooves and melodies.
1. From a Familiar Place 5:27
2. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy 6:35
3. Blind Warriors 6:02
4. On Sunday After Church 7:22
5. Take Five 5:23
6. Das Bounce 6:00
7. Grass Hoppers 5:02
8. Praeludium 5:26
9. Looking Ahead 7:16
Jeremy Pelt - trumpet
Marshall Gilkes - trombone
Krzysztof Medyna - tenor sax
Rafal Sarnecki - guitar
Andrzej Winnicki - piano
Jeff Dingler - bass
Michael Winnicki - drums
Produced by Andrzej Winnicki & Krzysztof Medyna