That rarity, an ECM album that is not produced by Manfred Eicher. Instead it is the former music journalist, writer of many press releases and long time ECM employee Steve Lake who has produced. Ponder this: could you tell the difference in a blindfold test?
Lake, like Eicher, knows exactly what he wants. ECM is bigger than both of them. They are prisoners to its image and sound to an extent even as they witnessed it.
No newcomer: Obara has a formidable reputation in Poland and through records such as this as he continues on ECM after Unloved going back a couple of years gets his name out beyond his native land. While he plays alto it is uncanny how because when he uses the deeper part of the instrument he resembles a tenor sax player and so in that regard I hear a little of Tomasz Szukalski (Balladyna) although curiously not Namysłowski (who was on Astigmatic), the greatest ever Polish alto saxophonist, in his playing in terms of timbre (definitely not style or choice of sax). By the way there is no Komeda material here and that is refreshing because in Poland there are way too many Komeda-themed records trotted out often by student types and that blunts the power of the music a bit. Instead the album opens with the holy minimalism of Górecki and 'Three Pieces in Old Style' (the album also includes 'Little Requiem for a Polish Girl').
Polish jazz is blessed with fine pianists and in Dominik Wania we have possibly the finest since Marcin Wasilewski first emerged and here he is: a quiet, effective presence. Quiet, thoughtful, music can be deadly boring but this is not. The bass of Ole Morten Vågan is eminiently listenable but let's be frank absurdly quiet at times and the Unloved quartet is completed by the bassist's fellow Norwegian, Gard Nilssen who plays a blinder, a Christensen-like presence at the kit. All the other tunes are Obara originals, the album was recorded in the ''Saturday Morning'' studio that ECM use a lot in la belle France, La Buissonne.
Check out the promo video if you are unfamiliar with Obara. I hope ECM stick with this band. I guess and in an unguarded moment predict they will make a classic record in the future. But they have to get lucky. For now it is a waiting game as they develop and grow and Three Crowns is a stopping-off point on the way to future greatness. SG