Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (ECM 2532)

December Avenue

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
December Avenue

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
David Virelles piano
Reuben Rogers double bass
Gerald Cleaver drums
Recorded June 2016, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 31, 2017

Now the windows, blinded by the glare of the empty square, had fallen asleep. The balconies declared their emptiness to heaven; the open doorways smelt of coolness and wine.
–Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles

Tomasz Stanko’s twelfth album for ECM as leader, released just shy of sixteen months before his death in 2018, is both a lean into the future and a languid dip in the past. In the former regard, one can expect a darker side of jazz to reveal its face at many turns herein. From the opening “Cloud” to the closing “Young Girl in Flower,” the Polish trumpeter and his New York Quartet don’t so much render a single circle as an ever-growing coil of them, each transitioning through iridescent colors of retrospection. In pianist David Virelles, bassist, Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gerald Cleaver he finds climatic support that opens the firmament to let in vaporous songs of resuscitation. Each is strangely thrilling, despite Stanko’s overcast writing.

Virelles keeps the barometric pressure balanced, setting the tone of “Blue Cloud” and “Bright Moon” with patience before an overflow of emotion takes place. Rogers and Cleaver add masterful waves of recall beneath Stanko’s storytelling vibe, in which the bandleader uses gestures and feelings to convey his characters’ deepest moral decisions. Like “Ballad for Bruno Schulz” and its distant cousin, “The Street of Crocodiles,” each breathes us mid-sentence into a literary world. The latter tune’s cinematic cool, in combination with Rogers’s arco drunkenness and Stanko’s back-alley flutters, is a pinnacle.

Not all is doom and gloom, however, as we’re treated to some scattered uprisings of emotion. Although still drawn from the shadows, “Burning Hot” and “Yankiels Lid” excavate the night with tools of fire, while the groovier title track feels like a lost take from Stanko’s previous effort, Wisława.

Three free improvisations fill in the gaps, each with Rogers as its fulcrum in largely duo settings. Sharing the air with Stanko in “Conclusion” and with Virelles in “Sound Space,” the bassist understands that any dream can be turned real by the flick of destiny’s wrist. Thankfully, one of those flicks loosed this album through the ether and into our receiving ears.

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: Wisława (ECM 2304/05)

Wislawa

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
Wisława

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
David Virelles piano
Thomas Morgan bass
Gerald Cleaver drums
Recorded June 2012 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Charlie Kramsky
Produced by Manfred Eicher

They call it: space.
It’s easy to define with that one word,
much harder with many.

The verse comes from the poem “Before a Journey” by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska, whose legacy gives color to a starry tribute from trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Given the snapshot ethics of Szymborska’s visual language, one could find no better musical interpreter to put this epigraph to the test. For though words may indeed fall short of expressing these swaths of infinitude we call “albums,” the language of instruments in the right hands can accomplish the impossible.

Wisława Szymborska
Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)

One need hardly expound the virtues of Stanko’s new allies, each handpicked from the profuse garden of the New York City jazz scene. Pianist David Virelles brings a robust gentility to the table that meshes effortlessly with Stanko’s own. Bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver—rhythm section to Craig Taborn’s trio—offer their dark synergy in kind. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and over the thickly whipped concoction of this 2-disc set it reaches our ears at the peak of flavor and consistency.

True to inspiration, Stanko and company derive wry upsweep from sentiments that, while unspoken, nevertheless dance in the spaces between. Of those spaces we encounter many, though of a markedly different cast from Stanko’s past ECM joints with the Polish quartet. Those expecting the aching, cool moroseness of that past may marvel at the prevalence of fire. The band swings with the best of them in “Tutaj – Here,” a track that takes its name, like a handful of others, from Szymborska’s final collection. Stanko leaps, as he does also in “Assassins,” at the fortuitousness of this meeting of word, feeling, and expression. He makes us aware of the here and now, as if we were there in the studio with him. Yet while the band is busy running all sorts of virtuosic errands in these dizzying soundscapes, we know that the finery is as thick as the souls it clothes.

The restless grooves of “Metafizyka” and “Mikrokosmos” find the band in a more down-tempo mood, though no less beguiling for melodic accuracy and Stanko’s unchained asides. Further allusions refract in “Faces” and “A Shaggy Vandal,” both highlights, taking their cue from Symborska’s poem “Thoughts That Visit Me on Busy Streets.” Stanko is at the top of his lyrical game in the former, trading off artfully with the others in cells of interpretation, to which Cleaver adds a vivid soliloquy of his own, while the latter is a well-oiled machine that blends influences into a postmodern mélange of rhythmic beastliness.

Despite these dips into upbeat waters, creature comforts reveal a heart whose petals have only grown fuller with the blush of time. Still, lurking in the album’s tenderest moments is an emotional heaviness. This is apparent in the fine patchworks of surplus and deficit that are “Dernier Cri,” in which the ghost of Miles is felt tenfold, and the wistful, floating “Song For H.” For another, “Oni” summons with smooth ritual, showing restraint while inviting us all the same with its beguiling atmosphere: the hallmarks of any good Stanko tune. Though its charm may be as deceptive as its title (if indeed the Japanese meaning of “demon” is intended), we are better equipped for it to wander into “April Story,” which opens nostalgia like a love letter forgotten in the back of a sock drawer. It is a raindrop forever hanging at a leaf’s trembling tip, a tear that never falls but which is sucked back into the eye, whereupon it tells the others: Not today.

Stanko NY Quartet

The title track and its 13-minute variation hug the set with dreams made real. Here the microscopy of the band is at full magnification. Stanko is the stain beneath Cleaver’s brushed cover slide, while Morgan and Virelles provide light and adjust the focus. Morgan’s especially contemplative soloing leaves us suspended before the blade of Stanko’s brass snips that thread and lets us drop into the quiet waters below. Notes linger, bringing us back to wistful ambiences of long ago.

Stanko wields his pen as surely as ever. His younger partners bring all the maturity needed to relay his torch with a grasp that lets everything slip through but the finest crystal. Tuneful to the core, each solo is a holistic admixture of heritages on the one hand and on the other elicits the satisfying crack of new eggs onto the frying pan. Do not go into this album expecting the lofty spaces of Lontano or Suspended Night. These songs are cruder oil to those past efforts’ refined, and all the more enchanting for it. Here the levels are grounded, not airborne. Denser and tenser is the name of the game. But let us not fall deeper into the trap of comparison, for Wisława possesses its own stage and protagonists. In this play there are no villains, only messengers of progress whose abilities precede them and whose reputations burgeon in golden light. Verily, verily so.

Promo video:

(To hear more samples of Wisława, click here.)

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.)

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.

Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Soul of Things (ECM 1788)

Soul of Things

Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Soul of Things

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Marcin Wasilewski piano
Slawomir Kurkiewicz double-bass
Michal Miskiewicz drums
Recorded August 2001 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“I’ve been playing the same song my whole life,” says trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, who puts his claim to the test in thirteen numbered tracks under the title Soul of Things. Together they are not variations on a theme, but are a “balladesque suite” built around the theme of variation. And who better to weigh this theory than the all-Polish backing of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass), and Michal Miskiewicz (drums)? For perhaps no one else has internalized every aspect of Stanko’s career with such commitment and chased it down with a healthy ECM diet to boot. Being in the legendary space of Oslo’s Rainbow Studio, under Manfred Eicher’s careful and deepening guidance no less, stirred their blood to permeating, concerted action in a timeless document.

Even if I wanted to resist contextualizing Stanko’s music against a silver screen, one can almost feel the tick of raindrops on gabardine as Variation I bathes us in film noir atmosphere. Stanko’s protagonist is recognizable from the first curl of fog that precedes him. The band’s attunement, down to the molecular level, is also palpable in Kurkiewicz’s attention to space, finding in Wasilewski’s pianism fertile ground for unmitigated ideas beneath a sprinkling of drummed dew. Variation II glides along with an ice-skaterly flow. Stanko’s gentility here astonishes, though even the more upbeat variations like III and X maintain an elasticity of time that softens our ears. From lullabies of empathy (IV) to heart-wrenching spotlights on closed curtain (XII), we feel every hidden thing as if it were already inside us.

Wasilewski, in his first ECM appearance, is the session’s golden child, spreading out every wrinkle with iron fingers. He paints a forest one branch at a time in VI, drums quivering like the wind-touched foliage. Likewise in VII. Billowing like a curtain in a summer breeze, it manifests the flexibility of our well-being and weaves its thread count to translucent density. The contemplative solo from Miskiewicz here is something of a transition point, a hidden portal through which Stanko breathes his undying love for the unspoken lyric. Like the cover image—a still from Jean-Luc Godard’s 2001 masterpiece Éloge de l’amour—it opens a sky in the mind’s eye, a rift of flame and critical reasoning.

In Praise of Love

So often Stanko comes close to the edge, hanging only by a finger, but pulls himself up just in time, filling every chasm with hope before stepping confidently on his way to the next. We hear this in IX, when after an ascending line he waits for the implications to settle before auguring their full-blown fate. Such profundity abounds also in XI. It is filled sublime moments, as when Stanko unleashes a raspy cry and Miskiewicz responds not with a rise in intensity but a flowering of cymbals, gentle yet sure. From a long solo intro, the final variation plies the studio’s reverberant space as one might a deity with questions that are their own answers.

Soul of Things only grows more ponderous as it develops, trail-marking its passage not with breadcrumbs but with delicacies far more edible by heart. This quartet, while formidable, is never confrontational, even when Stanko is blatting his golden song across the stratosphere. His titles may always come after the fact, but the soul of these things has been there from the start.

Tomasz Stanko: From The Green Hill (ECM 1680)

From The Green Hill

Tomasz Stanko
From The Green Hill

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
John Surman baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Dino Saluzzi bandoneón
Michelle Makarski violin
Anders Jormin bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded August 1998 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A burning ridge. Gills of flame in the dark. Smoke rises; ashes sink. This is the visual manifestation of all that resounds From The Green Hill, yet another leap of profundity from Tomasz Stanko after the Polish trumpeter’s four-album ECM panorama. To achieve this, he couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate band: John Surman (dipping into his characteristic low reeds), bandoneón maestro Dino Saluzzi, violinist Michelle Makarski, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Jon Christensen decode the cover photograph as a meta-statement of Stanko’s bite and his underlying deference to the spirits lurking within his instrument. Of those, the ghost of Krzysztof Komeda opens its mouth most widely and unleashes its lachrymose glow at 24 frames per second in two versions of “Litania.” Saluzzi plays each alone, keying from them a vital thematic thread of Stanko’s sound-world, a floating lily with no destination but its will to bloom. Saluzzi thus adopts a narrative voice, without which the story would lack a vital organ.

Surman contributes the album’s frame tale in the form of “Domino,” which opens the set and also makes a penultimate reappearance. In the former incarnation, it constitutes a viscous introduction in which the free considerations of the band’s rhythm section (to which the bandoneón is bonded) are the matchbook strip to Stanko’s strike. “Stone Ridge,” also by Surman, puts his bass clarinet in the spotlight. Flowering from a solo violin before Stanko’s muted strains pull up the others in his net, the ensuing groove gives plenty of hooks for its chain of soliloquys, of which Makarski’s is utterly remarkable.

The compositional skin that keeps this all embodied is writ large by Stanko, despite the fact that he seems relatively absent. What he lacks in airtime, however, he makes up for with a honed improvisatory laser that etches every nook of this shadowy house in which we find ourselves. It all reaches a nadir in “Love Theme from Farewell to Maria” and in the title track. The level of attunement to every change in both offers hope against the somber charge. Not to be ignored, Jormin stands out for his restless solo in “…y despues de todo” and for the inversions of “The Lark In The Dark.” Christensen’s drumming, too, with its microscopic and sparkling current, sets off a halting sort of poetry. (Note also his free talk with Saluzzi in “Buschka.” Brilliant.) We end in “Argentyna,” which confirms the presence of a magnifying glass in Stanko’s Swiss Army knife, though with no loss of intensity—if anything, more of it. Stripped to the core of their melodic undertaking, his powers of recollection gnaw at the arbitrariness of intellectual border zones. His are not cerebral toys, but direct methods of communication, their raw rubato the touchstone of an unrelenting lyricism…and all of this with hardly a trace of aggression.

The genesis of From The Green Hill can be traced back to ECM’s May 1997 Whitsun concerts at the Hotel Römerbad in Badenweiler, Germany. It was there that Stanko found himself performing at the behest of producer Manfred Eicher, who dropped his weight into new and exciting pools. Several performances and one all-night jam session later (oh, to have been there…), we arrive in this masterfully interwoven place, where ebb and flow have only one name: you.

Tomasz Stanko: Litania (ECM 1636)

Litania

Tomasz Stanko
Litania – Music of Krzysztof Komeda

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Bernt Rosengren tenor saxophone
Joakim Milder tenor and soprano saxophones
Terje Rypdal electric guitar
Bobo Stenson piano
Palle Danielsson double-bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded February 1997 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Film composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda (1931-1969) is the subject of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s fourth ECM date as leader, following BalladynaLeosia, and Matka Joanna. The latter’s nod to cinema is further defined on Litania. Best known stateside for his collaborations with Roman Polanski, scoring such classics as Rosemary’s Baby and Knife in the Water, Komeda was more importantly one of the great pioneers of Polish jazz. Developing his music at a time when the Communist government condemned such “bourgeois” activity, Komeda—incidentally, a protective stage name—brought his fascinations into reality with the Komeda Sextet, whose performances paved the way for modern jazz in Poland and soon caught the attention of filmmakers. The festival circuit, however, was where his ideas truly fomented—so much so that a young Stanko would form the Komeda Quartet with saxophonist Zbigniew Namysłowski, bassist Roman Dyląg, and percussionist Rune Carlsson, each of whom took Komeda’s inspiration duly to heart. Before that, however, Stanko would collaborate with Komeda himself for the 1965 album Astigmatic, considered one of the most important in European jazz history. This record seeks to revive the Komeda of apartment jams and night club gigs, the Komeda who set the hearts of Stanko and so many of his generation aflame with a love of free expression, the Komeda both on and off the silver screen.

The Litania project is the result of producer Manfred Eicher’s abiding interest in music-cinema connections more broadly, in Komeda’s sound-world more specifically, and in seeing it realized by the composer’s closest musical associate. The fit couldn’t be better, as Komeda was one similarly interested in expanding the sound of jazz in ways typically reserved for classical music and its instruments.

His compositions have the distinct quality of retaining a somber edge at their most upbeat and a sparkling hope at their most ponderous. Case in point: the heavy yet pliant theme of “Svantetic,” (dedicated to Svante Foerster, friend and Swedish poet) which opens the program with a flirtatious eye. The group’s legato nodes of thought speak through some healthy soloing on keys (Bobo Stenson) and tenors (Bernt Rosengren and Joakim Milder). An intimate drum solo from Jon Christensen engenders squealing final words from Stanko, who leads the band to a brighter, more tumultuous sea and establishes a palette for all to follow. After a viscous intro, “Night-Time, Daytime Requiem” (dedicated to John Coltrane) floats the piano down a river of its own resonance. Horns and drums to take up the call, wavering with dark urban energy before opening into a tenor solo that flicks like a lighter, a flint to stone. Notable here is the interaction between Stenson and bassist Palle Danielsson, their hearts aflutter with the dedication of their charge, if not the charge of their dedication. The album’s most cinematic moments come from Stenson, especially in the latter half of this epic track, dark and roiling yet somehow captured in stasis like the cover photograph. Stanko’s pointillist exchange with tenor foils a peaceful, ruminative finish. The breezy rhythm section of “Ballada” (Knife in the Water) makes for another memorable Stanko vehicle, while the title track, its edges tinted like the pages of a well-read book, features more powerful understatements from both tenors. But Stenson’s waves just keep returning and his breakers of “Repetition” dissolve on shores of stagnant memories, given voice through wind and reed. With Charles Lloyd-esque contemplation, “Ballad for Bernt” carries its melodies across fuzzy dreams and even fuzzier borders of intimation. This tune is dedicated to Bernt Rosengren, a pivotal figure in Sweden, where he and Don Cherry invigorated the local jazz scene.

Although the album header says “Tomasz Stanko Septet,” this is in fact a sextet album, with guitarist Terje Rypdal guesting only on the last two tracks. That being said, he adds a mosaic of haunt to “The Witch,” which begins like a Jan Garbarek excursion before Rypdal drizzles his electric in reams of sparkling shadow. He adds dedicatory color also to “Sleep Safe And Warm” (Rosemary’s Baby), the last of three versions that anchor these waters.

Stanko enters these waters not like a diver, but rather like a crocodile, sinking unawares and peeking above the surface only when necessary. Unblinking, alive, and considered, his heartfelt arrangements ensure that the Komeda legacy breathes afresh. The result is muscular jazz with a crystal-clear sense of direction. It knows exactly where it’s going, because it’s already been there. Says Stanko of Komeda, “He showed me how simplicity is vital, how to play the essential. He showed different approaches, using different harmonies, asymmetry, many details. I was very lucky that I started out with him. Would he have approved of this record? I hope so.”

As you will know once you listen to it, no hope is needed.

Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Leosia (ECM 1603)

Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Leosia

Tomasz Stanko trumpet
Bobo Stenson piano
Anders Jormin double-bass
Tony Oxley drums
Recorded January 1996 at Rainbow Studio
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“You shall sleep when you will,
to the strains of celestial music,
and you need not say your prayers.”
–Comte de Lautréamont, Maldoror

After the cinematic embroidery of Matka Joanna, where else was the Tomasz Stanko Quartet to go but farther inward? Building not so much on as under its shadowy predecessor, Leosia plants the Polish trumpeter in even darker soil with cohorts Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin, and Tony Oxley. While everyone involved had by this point lit his fair share of lanterns, for this session the quartet trimmed those wicks to the barest of flames with no loss of intensity. The grace of “Morning Heavy Song” expresses all that follows in one slow sweep of the compass. Stanko embodies the spirit of its charcoal canvas, which comes to us naked and trembling. Yet we see that spirit by the light of something promising, a resolution that sparkles with the rhythm section’s deeply psychological entrance. It may be a story of harder things, but it grows new legs through the telling. Oxley is superb, here and beyond, marking trails with splashes of breadcrumbs in “Die Weisheit von Le comte Lautréamont” and bringing especial definition to “Trinity.” The latter is also a vivid example of Stanko’s singing qualities, qualities that melt his brass down in such crucibles as “A Farewell To Maria” and “Hungry Howl” to the shape of a creased page. In both we smell remorse on the wind, not least through Jormin’s humming presence. We wake to a new dawn in “Brace,” a freer chain that sets us on a “Forlorn Walk.” This is where the session decides to swing, in its twisted way, Stanko reaping some engaging highs against the delicate attunement of his band mates. Of Stenson’s skeletal wonders we hear plenty in “No Bass Trio” and “Euforila,” one rest to the other’s play. For the title track, all of these shards coalesce into a single mosaic, taking on the colors of whatever light passes through it, be it clear or swirling with ink. That light is undoubtedly Stanko, who shines to the end with a quiet and unpretentious conviction. His lyricism is diurnal, our guide along a horizon of melancholy that leaves us intact and well nourished.