Release date: January 26, 2004
As wonderful as they are, not every :rarum release is designed to show an artist’s evolution per se, but in the case of Tomasz Stanko I would be hesitant to regard it as anything but a shuffled timeline of progress. It’s as if the Polish trumpeter held on to the same physical instrument since his ECM debut, 1976’s Balladyna, of which “Tale” reveals a bandleader already committed to quality over quantity, all the way to this collection’s most recent intersections with 1998’s From The Green Hill. Such bands of vessels only could have been made visible by virtue of the lighthouse kept burning by label producer Manfred Eicher. If Balladyna’s title cut was his thesis statement, then Hill’s “Pantronic” is a substantial body paragraph drawn from the vocabularies of violinist Michelle Makarski, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Jon Christensen. Makarski’s fluid charm, in combination with Jormin’s thick bassing, hangs a backdrop for Stanko’s liminal explorations, while in “Quintet’s Time,” which replaces violin with the bandoneon of Dino Saluzzi and bass clarinet of John Surman, he renders a crisp interlocking of voices. In this context, his tone takes on a more rounded quality, as incisive as it ever was yet somehow tempered by maturity’s waning interest in the vagaries of the world. Instead, he retools the sharper edges of youth into a weapon of expression without words.
Jumping back in time to “Together,” an original tune off 1977’s Satu, we find that flutist Juhani Aaltonen, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Edward Vesala are happy to write a letter to the cosmos for which the composer does barely more than sign off. On bassist Gary Peacock’s “Moor” (Voice From The Past – PARADIGM, 1982), he matches the rawness of Jan Garbarek’s soprano saxophone with a fortitude that would also develop its own patina over time. Hints of such character spot the surface of 1995’s Matka Joanna, a masterpiece from his quartet with pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Jormin, and drummer Tony Oxley. Stenson’s fearless lyricism proved to be a most suitable partner for Stanko’s own, which allows grief to stir the soul in “Tales For A Girl, 12” and “Cain’s Brand.” In the second of those two, Oxley falls down a dark stairway, making sense of things along the way, while Stanko barely breathes. His quartet unravels further wonders in 1997’s Leosia, wherein flashes of brightness come to the fore through the lenses of “Die Weisheit Von Le Comte Lautréamont” and “Morning Heavy Song.”
To my ears, however, “Sleep Safe And Warm” (Litania, 1997) will always be a touchstone in my regard of Stanko’s output. Not only was it my introduction to Stanko; it was also my introduction to Krzysztof Komeda and the formative influence the Polish composer had on the young trumpeter. I’ll never forget finding the album at a used CD shop in Burlington, Vermont not long after its release and listening to it on my Discman while riding a bus home as the city resolved into summer greenery. Its subliminal melodies will forever be the soundtrack to that sequence of memory, linking up to my present self as I write this, unknowing of what the future will sound like.