Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Tomasz Szukalski tenor and soprano saxophones
Dave Holland bass
Edward Vesala drums
Recorded December 1975, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
I can only imagine the reactions Tomasz Stanko garnered with Balladyna, his first recording for ECM. The no-holds-barred “First Song” jumps into action with that hard swing that can only come from Dave Holland. Add to this brew the wide-ranging percussion of Edward Vesala and the spicy solos of our frontman and Tomsaz Szukalski, and you have a jambalaya to savor and remember. After such a climactic opener, Stanko could play “Happy Birthday” for all I care. Thankfully (though who knows what this quartet might have done with such ubiquity?) we a get the Ornette Coleman-infused “Tale” that faithfully charts a key transition from raw to cooked jazz. One can feel the rapt attention with which each musician listens to the other.
This live, interactive energy continues in “Num,” sustained by knitted cymbal work as the two Tomaszes go head to ecstatic head. A killer bass solo makes the cut complete. A lumbering Holland/Stanko interlude opens the door on the title number, anteing up in tutti before spreading its hand into a straight improvisatory flush. Stanko screeches above a pointillist rhythm section, Szukalski stepping into the footprints he leaves behind. A doleful, mocking tone returns in the tongue-in-cheekly titled “Last Song,” nodding like a head succumbing to sleep. The fine horn playing makes this one a standout. The actual last song, “Nenaliina,” is an effusive spring of percussion with a brassy tail.
After all these years, the teeth of Balladyna still make for quite a bite. Anyone wanting to hear the label’s heartbeat in its prime need place an ear to no other chest.