Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Lontano (ECM 1980)


Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded November 2005, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In the 1996 documentary Microcosmos, one memorable scene depicts a frog’s harrowing encounter with a rainstorm. The filmmakers take us inside the amphibian experience, dramatizing the rain’s weight and sound through a clever slow-motion technique that allows us to feel these seemingly harmless water droplets in a unique remove of consciousness and stature. The Tomasz Stanko Quartet begins with the opposite in Lontano, distancing us so diffusely from the drama that it is but a pale blemish on the earth.

The title track assumes three forms, each an axis of the album’s crystalline structure. Together they blend the storm’s aftermath, as might an artist smudge an errant pencil mark. Stanko’s trumpet, ever the veiled shaman, assures his fellow travelers: We can brave the cosmos. These sentiments twine a microscopic thread down which the band slides into a river valley miles below. Although the rush of waters remains only as a whisper in the rocks, we still feel the story being told as if it were our own. Amid a wealth of soft angles and lyric cast, the distantly miked drums of Michal Miskiewicz add strange hues to every distinct section. These are epic statements, thoughtful and sincere.

In its flesh are lodged the thorns of a soulful bramble, of which pianist Marcin Wasilewski’s pedaled carpet in “Cyrhla” is among the most haunting beauties ECM has ever committed to disc. This song is so deep that it seeps into every pore of the bones and replaces our blood with music. Not far away, “Song for Ania” is so heartwarming it burns: an anthem that sweeps past us like an unrequited love, lingering just long enough to brush its lips against an idol of permanence. One can hear Miskiewicz thinking through every shift in terrain here, adapting the spirit of his tread accordingly. Bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz likewise reaches deep into his responsive toolkit and emerges with some precious soloing. “Kattorna” is the only song retained of Stanko’s original set list, and as such drops like a kernel into a pool of more wistful, though no less tinctured, sediments. The funkier developments therein give him a license to melodize, and then some.

“Sweet Thing” is nothing less. It’s an easygoing and amiable entity, whose constitution represents a real-time blending of experience and conversation. Stanko is front and center, even in the context of Wasilewski’s calm fortitude. “Trista” turns sadness into a child’s name and throws her innocence into the wind, that it might calm the demons who seek us. Stanko comforts us again with a dip into peripheral colors, shaking off the excess to paint pure and seeking lines. In “Tale” we get the prologue as epilogue, finding in itself the key to expressing the import of its nature. It’s a welcome cameo from his first ECM joint, Balladyna, and brings us full spiral into a fragrant future.

Lontano is a timeless testament to this quartet’s brea(d)th of creativity. With every knot this session ties, it undoes another in an enduring chain of freedom. Impressionistic is hardly the word, for it does nothing to signal the total embodiment thereof, the sheer delicacy of the chrysalis in which it incubates. If Stanko was father before, now he is sage. He divines us.

This is jazz of the heart, and further of the cells that make it.

3 thoughts on “Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Lontano (ECM 1980)

  1. Thanks for this review, Tyran. Lontano is my favorite recording from this outstanding quartet. They summon the spectre of Miles’ bands so authentically, it’s eerie — particularly Wasilewski’s acoustic piano mimicry of chord phrasings first emitted from electric Rhodes by messrs. Zawinul, Corea, Hancock and Jarrett.

  2. This is a lovely review of simply one of the most perfect musical adventures ever recorded. Anything further I could say would just exhibit the inability of my words to relate how special this music is to me.

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