Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Suspended Night (ECM 1868)

Suspended Night

Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Suspended Night

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded July 2003 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Two years after the classic Soul of Things, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his young Polish sidekicks took things to the next level—by going deeper into the night. Stanko’s uniqueness comes through his ability to be at once atavistic and novel. He turns an ear to those spaces in between notes and shows us just how musical they truly are. This is to say nothing of the fact that his tone only seems to get more fluid as he ages, sometimes burrowing its way through a thickly described sentiment, at others swooning from the percolations of its discovery. He is sly and cool, and with the committed trio at his side there is nothing to fear on either end of the brass.

“Song for Sarah” spreads its roots into an earthy prologue for the ages. Like “Nicolette” (from a different classic, Angel Song), it sinks its teeth into a cloud, one that finds absorbent life here through the ten “Suspended Variations” that follow. In the first there is already an album’s worth of material to unpack. As he has done before, pianist Marcin Wasilewski brings the rain, only now its colors speak as much as they sing. Set aloft on Michal Miskiewicz’s popcorn snare and with Slawomir Kurkiewicz’s netted bass, Stanko’s subtle panoply of pops and whispers turns the ingredients of the solo into a home-cooked soliloquy.

The more you get to know this music, if not the other way around, the more its gradations clarify. What at first, for instance, feels like a tracing of that indefinable border between flying and falling in Variations III and IV reveals more domestic light with every listen. It is the kind of playing one can only dream about, wrapped as it is in a cloak of lens flare to stave off the half-hearted imitators of the world. The seemingly straightforward groove aesthetic of II and V pulls another curtain to the dawn, finding in every crosscurrent a decodable sigh. The responsive playing from the rhythm section here is something of a marvel. The pianism of VI wraps around us like skin and for the first time brings palpable darkness to the album’s palette. Stanko’s restraint is such that we can’t help nodding our heads and squinting our eyes into the billowing smoke that welcomes us.

Variation VII just might be the jewel of the set. Short and sweet, it reveals the breadth of the quartet’s subtleties in a sleek and compact package. VIII is likewise studded with microscopic touches from Wasilewski. Stanko, meanwhile, threads the needle with a hand so intuitive that his fingernails blur into the inlay of the valves until X fulfills the promise of suspension at last.

There is a veiled spirit to Suspended Night. Touched by the hesitations of a melancholy philosophy, it dispels the myth of origin and creates one for itself. This is the scar of maturity, the infant’s cradle chopped into firewood and burned until smoke and a few lullabies are all that’s left to prove its having been here.

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