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Listening to: Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Lontano

A review of the Tomasz Stanko Quartet’s Lontano (2006)

Tomasz Stanko is a Polish jazz trumpeter who sounds a little like Miles Davis without anger. Lontano contains a series of thoughtful, quiet and slightly angular (maybe geometric is a better word) pieces made with a young trio consisting of Marcin Wasilewski (p), Slamowir Kurkiewicz (b) and drummer Michal Miskiewicz. (These three have also made two very good piano trio recordings of their own that I’ll write about another time.)

This is a particularly European form of jazz – a specific interpretation of the American tradition, fused not with classical forms as one might expect, but rather imbued with a cinematic quality that results in a sort of abstract mood music whose melodies, harmonies and modality are rooted in jazz but which, at the same time, is largely disconnected from jazz history. Its connection to the blues is as abstract as, say, Ennio Morricone’s might be.

It’s a spacious, still music, this. I found myself paying very close attention to the finest details, the smallest plink of a piano key, bru shes against drum heads, the sound of the piano’s sustain pedal being depressed, the breathiness of Stanko’s muted but crystal clear tone. Much is expressed by virtue of not actually being played; it’s hinted-at, barely there, suppressed because it’s not really necessary. Where many jazz ensembles focus their improvisation on filling space (by trading off between soloists, for example), this quartet is primarily about getting out of each other’s way. Its economy is its great strength.

When they do decide to play more conventionally (like, for example, in the middle of ‘Cyrhla’, for me the standout track here), the effect is immense and uplifting: a simple blues-based improvisation suddenly seems like the most musical thing you’ve ever heard. And it’s not an effect that wanes on second and third listening. Even though you now know what’s coming, it’s still spectacular.

This is a very powerful band, led by an outstanding trumpeter. It may take you a listen or two to connect with it, but it’s quite rewarding.

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