Friday, May 3, 2013

Polish Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his New York Quartet "Wislawa"

Tomasz Stanko's New York Quartet "Wislawa"

Creating an environment that you don’t just hear but enter as a secret visitor, this is the music of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. From the ruminative opening piano chords of the pianist David Virelles, we get the sense that we are being led to a peaceful place; a place where gorgeously created sounds linger in the deliberate suspension of Stanko’s haunting horn. His sparse phrasing is intimate and compelling. Bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver, along with pianist Virelles, make up Stanko’s New York Quartet and they have absorbed his sensibility brilliantly. They have mastered the art of  deft accompaniment,  superlative sympathetic support of the trumpeter’s musical vision. All the twelve compositions on the beautifully packaged ECM two cd set are Stanko compositions.

On the Wislawa Virelles, Cleaver and Morgan create a wonderfully mystical atmosphere in which Stanko’s playing emerges as a wandering, soulful voice calling out in the haze. Morgan’s bass solo is projected with booming clarity. The album and title song is dedicated to the memory of Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Symborska who passed in 2012 and greatly inspired the trumpeter.

On “Assassins” Stanko breaks the spell using a driving, saw toothed pulse. Here the quartet plays the fractured head in tight unison before breaking it down into distinct sections of dynamic ostinato. Virelles, Morgan and Cleaver create an almost mechanical sounding pulsation of a rhythm. Stanko uses this frenzied pulse, playing over the beat with searing arpeggios and sometimes shrieking bursts. When Virelles solos he plays slightly behind the rhythm in a distinct counterpoint that resurrects the sense of jagged excitement. Cleaver’s rolling toms and splattering snare solo creates its own sense of a urgency.

On “Metafzyka” the group returns to Stanko’s signature brooding sound. He and Virelles match each other note for note in a slow and deliberate statement of theme as Morgan and Cleaver fill in the gaps with prescient accents. At the 2:20 mark the song changes time to a more upbeat tempo with Stanko playing in a more free wheeling melodic style that has its own sense of swing. Bassist Morgan creates a nice interlude with a warm, improvised solo that sings freely.

“Derrnier Cri” starts out stating a theme in Stanko’s own exaggerated pace. The deliberateness demands your attention by testing your listening resolve to see what his next musical statement will be. When the song breaks into a more sustainable rhythmic beat it is like an organism deprived of air suddenly striving to breath. You suddenly get a sense of direction and Stanko’s playing becomes more joyful, albeit sparse, as the rhythm section is allowed to set a groove. Virelles takes a prancing solo and his delicate interplay during Morgan’s vibrant bass solo is joyful and buoyant. When Stanko returns it is just a brief reminder, setting the tone to bring his group back to a more tempered resolve.

On Stanko’s “Mikrocosmos,” the music has the barest hint of a Middle Eastern melody before ascending with a series of climbing motifs. Stanko uses the loose framework of the song to search his way through, incorporating slurs, screeches and arpeggios to make his often minimalist point. Virelles, Morgan and Cleaver create a hidden space within, using marvelous interplay that emerges like a flower from a blossom. Virelles is particularly adept at creating a light, ethereal sound on his piano that Stanko uses as a palette on which to add his own stark, well placed brush strokes.

On “Song for H” Mr. Stanko builds a dirge-like melody with slow single note lines played in tandem with Virelles and Morgan. After the introduction the piece takes on a brief, free jazz core where each musician adds colors and textures in a open field of space and time before returning to where it began

The second cd starts out with a Stanko composition title “Oni.” The quiet and fluttering trumpet of the seventy year old Mr. Stanko is heard hear to great effect here. His wonderfully soulful middle register tone can warm any melody. Pianist Virelles offers a delicate, inspiring solo that he plays with incredible restraint.

“April Story” has a cinematic quality. It aurally paints a place where something has  happened that is worth remembering. Once again you perceive a suspended feeling from Stanko’s work. He creates a portal where time seems to briefly stand still. What strikes me is the telepathic interplay that he inspires in his group. While clearly the source of its inspiration, Stanko’s music is almost leaderless, seemingly flowing organically from a collective mind.

“Tutaj-Here” is a medium paced piece that finds Stanko with sleek, swift lines and occasional well placed slurs on his trumpet and some marvelous piano/bass interplay between Virelles and Morgan.  

The free wheeling “Faces” has nice ascending lines played in tandem by Morgan, Virelles and Stanko.  The maestro’s trumpet stabs his way through this one with occasional bursts of high register trills and fluttering shrieks.

On “A Shaggy Vandal” the group is perfectly adept at negotiating the quick twists, turns and changes of time in this composition. Stanko always leaves plenty of space between his outbursts.

The final piece on the album is another variation of the opening piece “Wistawa. “

Mr. Stanko composes melancholic, dirge-like melodies of the barest type; some with definite rhythmic patterns, some built more on a looser sense of time and space. They are marvelous sound scapes that can transport the sympathetic listener to an often times peaceful and reflective place.

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