Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM 2115)

Dark Eyes

Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Dark Eyes

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Alexi Tuomarila piano
Jakob Bro guitar
Anders Christensen bass
Olavi Louhivuori drums
Recorded April 2009, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gerard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Dark Eyes marks the studio debut of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s quintet with two Finnish musicians—pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori—and two Danish—guitarist Jakob Bro (previously heard on ECM as a member of Paul Motian’s Garden of Eden band) and electric bassist Anders Christensen.

Whereas Lontano explored Stanko’s artistry to its most vertical depths, this project seeks the horizontal in the sweeping arc of a surveyor’s compass and finds itself enamored of a life “So Nice.” The selfsame opener is still concerned with space, but in a more immediate way than its predecessors. We still have that same bejeweled interior, which for all its value lives in the heart of shadow, but in it is a lesson: gentility is a privilege that must be earned.

Right off the bat, Bro’s electric adds fresh tonal color to the Stanko sound-world, and continues to bring soft focus and shine to “Terminal 7.” This quintessential travel song puts Stanko in the pilot’s chair, even as Bro emerges from the earth below as a hypnotic, thermal squall. Lesson: the past can only be dead if we are not alive.

“The Dark Eyes Of Martha Hirsch” takes its inspiration from a painting by Oskar Kokoschka. It hangs at New York’s Neue Galerie, where Stanko found himself transfixed by the image. The theme works like a stitch, which is to say it entails an over and an under, a visible and an invisible. Of the album’s ten tunes, this is the most soundtrack-ish, bleeding from one scene into the next at Christensen’s prompt while throwing in some hot and heavy for good measure. Bro lays on the magic again, at one moment coordinating with a snare hit so organically that the latter seems to ring with it—prelude to a hip round of solos, of which Tuomarila’s is particularly fit. Lesson: speed gets you nowhere faster if you tame it with expectation.

Dark Eyes Painting
Martha Hirsch (Dreaming Woman), 1909

“Grand Central” is among Stanko’s more memorable themes and brings together an appropriate combination of nostalgia and bustling poetics. Tuomarila takes the roll of bassist, providing the throb behind every gesture. Lesson: always remember where you’re going.

Another metropolitan tribute follows in “Amsterdam Avenue,” which after a thematic tradeoff morphs into a forlorn portrait of the city, where the artist’s brush has only rain and smoke to choose from on his palette. Lesson: even when you remember where you’re going, try a new route to getting there.

“Samba Nova,” a diary from the quintet’s trip to Brazil, begins in a cellular vein, where a life of street music and mountain songs rolls in a quiet avalanche. Buoyant playing from Bro and foot-paddling propulsion from Tuomarila give Stanko all the room he needs to blow freely and easily. Lesson: never forget where you’ve come from.

Stanko pays homage to Krzysztof Komeda, ever a touchstone in his musical career, in a nocturnal incarnation of the jazz pioneer and composer’s “Dirge For Europe.” Its bass line stands out for imbuing Stanko’s song with more than enough starlight. Tuomarila’s ebony-and-ivory arithmetic makes as many subtractions as additions. Lesson: listen to the land, and it will tell you mournful things.

Our interlude shines in the “May Sun.” A gentle breeze of piano, a dreamy bass, the murmuring of drums. Lesson: brevity is the key to life.

“Last Song” takes a page from the book of Balladyna in a deft revaluation. This time its ink is of a deeper hue, its edge twinned by looking back. Lesson: everything is new.

And with the gentle “Etiuda Baletowa No. 3,” also by Komeda, the set closes on a whisper, a sigh, a sliver of moon. Here we lie, wrapped in the folds of slumber…to sleep, perchance to dream. Lesson: the words have found us; only the music needs to catch up.

Whereas Stanko’s previous Polish outings floated beyond any curtain, here they stand firmly onstage (more literally in the cases “Terminal 7” and “May Sun,” both incidental music for playwright Lars Norén). We could compare them all, but wouldn’t that spoil all the fun of exploration? Try it, be moved, and realize that Stanko testifies to something unrecoverable yet which feels closer than in anyone else’s hands.

(To hear samples of Dark Eyes, click here.)

4 thoughts on “Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM 2115)

  1. Thanks Tyran for accomplishing what I find nearly impossible: using words to effectively communicate the meaning and integrity of this art. It seems you’ve found, like me, that Stanko provides perhaps the deepest well on the ECM landscape, the richest real estate in mineral resources in the firmament. I’ll be fascinated to hear your take on the New York Quartet record.

    1. I’ve saved these albums, knowing their richness would require especially deep attention. There’s a lifetime of listening waiting in them. I should have a review of the New York Quartet record sometime around the US release date.

  2. Though it was recorded with a very different band, I still consider this a continuation of the evolution of Stanko starting with Soul of Things toward a patient, mysteriously melodic, yet profound and complex type of music that is multi-layered, and so becomes timeless and endlessly listenable and enjoyable. We have a Sunday morning playlist that has those four, along with the three Wasilewski Trio albums and Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song, that we play on my iPod speakers to take us well into the late afternoon. Oh, and by the way…did I say how much I love Dark Eyes? Wonderful review!

  3. I left my comment above 5 years ago. On this rainy Saturday late spring afternoon, preparing to go cook something good for dinner (pasta primavera, I think – lots of fresh chard, sugar snap peas, peppers – feeling creative and spontaneous), Dark Eyes is playing over our Echo. This morning, breakfast was to strains of Lontano. Earlier this week, it was evenings with Suspended Night and Soul of Things. Over and over again, my wife and I find ourselves returning to these four masterpieces by our favorite artist on the label, Tomasz Stanko. And I wonder – what is it about his music that reaches in, grabs, resonates so? I can’t better your words, Tyran, for descriptions of these four releases. All I know is that the music will be my wife and my companion through the coming days, weeks, years of our lives.

    I do wonder – which do we enjoy more? Of the four, Suspended Night gets least play time (only relatively speaking), Lontano the most – but on balance, these four stellar ECM releases are among the very cream of the crop.

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