Tomasz Stanko‘s selection from his years of ECM recordings seems to have been influenced by his current performing preference, in the quartet which, even as I begin, is probably snoring not so very many miles from here at the end of a British tour. What I’ve heard of their new work on another CD is pretty good, certainly the wiry-looking little Polish trumpeter is these days on top form with his excellent piano/bass/drums quartet. Pity I couldn’t make the gig!
A lot of the present CD has that quartet instrumentation, and it has to be said that where the trumpeter refers in his notes to his compositions here having a unity, well, the quartet titles don’t exhibit enormous variety. The pace is slow medium to slow, with a lyrical highlight which reminds me of—which near as dammit is—the middle section of “April in Paris”. Stanko’s sound and phrasing suggest rather nearer the chest than pointing to the rafters, with a lower register hoarseness. Rasping across Bobo Stenson’s piano on the opening title, searching out lines or long phrases over the pianist’s arpeggios and Tony Oxley’s scampering brushes, the heart of the performance is Anders Jormin’s bass solo. The extended ensemble passages fore and aft of this have a compositional shape like Monk’s “Crepuscule with Nellie”, a comparable concentration if very different in mood. With Michelle Makarski on violin four years later playing a flowing and dancing accompaniment with bass and drums, the pent up character of Stanko’s playing is plain, as if the raspiness were just the ground from which he took his flights. On “Cain’s Brand” he pays a few visits to the stratosphere with Tony Oxley’s drums banging away. He has a curious squeezed sound when he lifts off. Stenson’s entry seems to be advancing a modern European classical idiom as against the drumming. Jormin’s bass is lighter-toned and lyrical, Oxley’s percussion outing lifts the performance into very jazz territory for yet another of those ensembles Stanko makes so very much of. Just trumpet, piano, bass and drums.
‘Tale”, with Dave Holland counterpointing the trumpet part over Edward Vesala’s drums, has an amazing moment of pure clear trumpet tone among the harsh lyrical cry of so much of this music.
“Moor” is from a 1981 Gary Peacock album, with Garbarek soprano and de Johnette percussion working away. Stanko plays an oblique sort of alternative be-bop, all bumps and angularities. There is a funny suppressedness to playing which doesn’t sound re-pressed, more close to the chest. Garbarek is the one who’s been listening to Miles Davis, to judge from his soprano solo. The performance concludes with a cryptic phrase in the ensemble, like a muffled echo of the introduction to Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time”.
With “Die Weisheit von Le Comte Lautreamont” the CD seems to have come home; this sounds like more straightforward, pretty well contemporary jazz (1996, two years later than the opener). Svenson is bold, expansive. With Oxley there’s the sense of always something happening. The way the pianist’s hands interplay does nothing to diffuse that.
He’s a lovely player, Stenson, and after his Monkish intro on “Heavy Morning Song” the raspiness of the trumpet becomes breathiness. There’s something nicely upside down about this and some other performances, Stanko’s restraint and measured phrasing a sort of accompaniment and inspiration to the rest of the band.
After the repetitive insistence of the quartet, the beauty and freshness of John Surman’s bass clarinet opens “Quintet’s Time” by a band not including Dino Saluzzi’s bandoneon. A trumpet entry makes me ask if maybe this tune appeared under another name. Surman gets an outing good as any he gives himself on his own Rarum. John Christensen does the occasional thing reminiscent of ole Gene Krupa, Jormin is in the guts of his bass, and Stanko’s solo flashing over them with a fearful exultation before. Fireworks! Kristensen-Krupa plays mighty tom-toms as Ms. Makarski fiddles away all unacknowledged in the booklet (apart from the listing of the initial CD this comes from, From the Green Hill in the appendices).
The lyrical duet “Sleep Safe and Warm” should consolidate admiration for Bobo Svenson. The full ensemble on the same date Litania, plays on that title litany. Bernd Rosengren (or it could be Joakim Milder) has a very nice tenor solo among the hymnal ensembles, but the constricted and steepling trumpet solo edges into a fulsomeness the second tenor solo recurs to. I’m sorry, but Hollywood rather than the Holy Rood is what comes to mind hearing the emotional expansiveness of this performance. Twenty-one years earlier Tomasz Stanko played on the drummer Edward Vesala’s date with the flautist Juhani Aalotonen. The combination of the flute and what the booklet calls “string section” becomes somewhat anodyne after a fresh breathy beginning from Aatonen (the echo on the flute doesn’t help). Palle Danielssen does his best on bass.
“Balladyna”, from the 1975 album of the same name, has the immensely poised gong-note bass of Dave Holland. The rough Stank sound is exercised with plenty of power over the authoritative bass. Tomasz Szukalski plays tenor in an ugly but not repulsive manner of that time. It matches Stanko fairly well.
I’m not sure this represents much more, with its restricted selection in one of the less enormous ECM discographies (seven CDs of his own and two as a sideman), than the equivalent of hunting among some older snapshots in the absence of a recent photograph. That hackneyed motif does not in this case represent a Missing Person story (the only missing person who comes to mind is the present writer, who couldn’t get to the Tomasz Stanko concert!).
Suppose I had to swap this CD for one of the others, I might choose the “Green Hill” one for extra Surman, Saluzzi and indeed the lady fiddler. Or the new one? I suspect he realised that for years, if maybe not all the time, he’s been doing what he is doing now. And this is consists of examples of him doing what he’s doing now, than of other things he might have been doing almost thirty, or in many cases, fewer than ten years ago. “Litania” might have been an interesting rather than merely not a very good choice. He is not an expansive player, he is a very tight one. He seems to have an interest in bop licks, the sort of long winding line Jackie McLean or another now veteran could sing to you “beedlyweedlyboodeedahtahboo”. Stanko commonly seems to be resisting the rhythms and phrases of virtuoso bebop in the cause of straighter and tenser lines. One of the beneficial results is a bringing out of ensemble performance. Piano, bass, and drums seem to be what he’s best with.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.