Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tomasz Stanko: In From The Shadows

Tomasz Stanko (trumpet; b. 1942)

Tomasz Stanko is one of the premier European trumpeters on the scene today. He acknowledges and relishes in his Miles Davis influence whenever he is asked. But when you listen to his albums or see him live you realize there is something much more going on here than just an appreciation of the late legend. He is truly starting break away from the comparisions.

Tomasz Stanko began his career in the apprenticeship of fellow Polish composer and musician Krzysztof Komeda, known to most of the world as the composer of many of Roman Polanski's best psychological thrillers like Rosmary's Baby and Knife in the Water. These were haunting soundtracks, but (in the case of Knife) they were also beautiful jazz albums typified by the elegance of Tomasz Stanko's trumpet.

Tomasz Staknko has released a number of albums since the late 60's. For the uninitiated I would recommend you go straight for the collection entitled Selected Recordings (ECM). Selected Recordings covers a good amount of the material he has done with his long standing relationship with ECM Records.

The new album Dark Eyes (ECM) is nothing short of brilliant. The album is highlighted by a new band that marvelously constructs Stanko's vision of sparse but evocative rhythms into an enjoyable investigation of sound and emotion. The addition of guitarists Jakob Bro has added a new element to Stanko's usually calm and consistent quartet. I had always felt that Tomasz Stanko's devotion to Miles was running into a brick wall on his last two records but Dark Eyes has a whole new voice and direction that I have been enjoying for a few months now. The title track "The Dark Eyes Of Martha Hirsch" is fantastic. It's origins stem from a painting exhibition he visited. Stanko has also included two compositions from the legendary musician/composer, Krysztof Komeda. While including Komeda material is nothing new for Stanko it is the cohesion of the band that has makes these two tracks ("Dirge For Europe" and "Etiuda Baletowa No.3") standout for me.

The fresh lineup change has really breathed new life into Tomasz Stanko's writing. The album's mixture of Stanko's excellent attention to the detail of every note as well as a fresh ideas his new band have incorporated makes Dark Eyes my favourite Tomasz Stanko album in years.

In addition, I hope you would take the time and investigate the following albums for the sublte dark beauty of Tomasz Stanko throughout the years.

Balladyna (ECM; 1975) A phenomenal album with solid production work. Quiet but still very inventive at a time when many other artists (Europe and America) were trying figure out how to combine fuse jazz and funk together into something rhythmic for the masses. This is not that type of record. Stanko's solos on this record highlight his influence as well the attention to beauty that Chet Baker always demonstrated in the studio.

Bluish (Powers Brothers; 1991) While there are a couple of albums from the 80s I could mention, the majority of that period is disappointing to me but Bluish--done with a European line up including Arlid Anderson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) is fantastic and moves from dark introspection to lively inspiration with tremendous precision. Each of these musicians are known as highly revered masters in the jazz community. Bluish is just one example of their great work together.

Leosia (ECM; 1996) This is one of the best jazz albums of the 90s and probably Stanko's best album. Also featuring an all European quartet including drum legend Tony Oxley. All of the album shines due to the individual performances, and it sounds like there is no true leader as Stanko allows the band to have complete freedom but you see that he is always the link that holds the session together.

Soul Of Things (ECM; 2001) After a brief three year hiatus from 98-01, Tomasz Stanko returned with a new younger quartet of Polish performers for the album that I think might be the best introduction for anyone unfamiliar with his work. This is a slow melodic session for which all the members are in complete harmony. Its an album that you have to sit down and listen to all the subtleties that wind there way through this magnificent recording. Soul Of Things is by far the album I have most recommended to my friends time and a time again. If you do get into any of these album please let me know your thoughts.

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