Music

Tomasz Stanko: Dark Eyes

Brooding Nordic beauty, with a whole lot of late night New York as well


Tomasz Stanko

Dark Eyes

Label: ECM
US Release Date: 2010-03-30
UK Release Date: 2010-10-26
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has two homes. One is in Europe—specifically in Warsaw, Poland, where he was born—and the other New York. It should be no surprise, then, that Stanko's music rides a sleek rail that seems to connect a European and an American sensibility in jazz.

On his latest ECM disc, Dark Eyes, Tomasz Stanko is fronting a decidedly European quintet, not to mention one with a Nordic slant. Pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori are Finnish, bassist Anders Christensen and guitarist Jakob Bro are Danish. So the band comes honestly to its echoing grooves and its arcing, lonely melodies. This is icy canyon music, in part.

But the canyons in tunes such as "Grand Central" and "Amsterdam Avenue" are the ones between tall Manhattan buildings. This has been Stanko's contemporary achievement: to merge the too-often chilly European jazz sound with New York's martini hipness. Who is the most famous jazz musician to be so insistently cool/hot? Another trumpeter you might have heard of named Davis.... It is inevitable that Stanko is compared to Miles, who is plainly a dominant influence. Both use silence effectively, and both primarily work the middle range of the trumpet. Stanko carves almost all his melodies from a lonely sound that is deeply tender rather than chilly--he is ultimately a romantic like Davis was.

The songs that are most romantic are both sonically beautiful and harmonically interesting. "Samba Nova" is, of course, influenced by time Stanko spent in Brazil, and it begins as an echoing ballad over a pedal tone. But halfway through it not only develops the distinctive skipping-light groove of Brazil, but also starts to move over a set of hip chord changes. The piano solo ripples with invention, but quietly, as if an exceptional Manhattan piano bar had suddenly emerged from a fog. Bro's guitar solo here is ideally modulated between cool modernity and a knowing nod to Grant Green. "Grand Central" also uses a throbbing pedal tone, but the written melody jumps around happily, resulting in a set of pastel harmonies that move. This is not the clichéd ECM sound all by itself.

But there are pure ballads too, and they have a strong sense of searching. "So Nice" has a lovely, winding quality to its melody, with the band s-l-o-w-l-y steering your ear from color to color. Tuomarila plays with an even attack but no lack of rhythmic invention, which serves these slow tunes particularly well.

Stanko's playing is the center of the sound of each tune. He carries the weight of each melody alone, with guitar or piano only sometimes sounding prominent in the head arrangements. When he solos, Stanko pushes his horn into a higher register and he attacks with a great freedom. As beautiful as this music is, Stanko is still practicing a high kind of free jazz. "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" gets cooking in the rhythm section, and Stanko starts growling out his notes, playing beyond the chord changes and inviting his band to practice the kind of elegant freedom that is all too rare in most jazz.

It remains true that this kind of European jazz feels bleached of blues feeling. There is lyrical and textural depth to it, no question, but some listeners will hear monotony in the insistent diatonic grace of this music. Careful attention reveals drama and even excitement, but it's easy to let Stanko's music turn into sonic wallpaper.

My recommendation here is to resist this urge. Dark Eyes can be a 3am stroll through Central Park--plenty eventful, if pensive and dramatically still. This is a cinematic music, and active listening makes every last gesture pay off.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image