Can a recording be appreciated or understood without knowing the full history of the performer?
The answer is, of course, yes and no. In this case, yes, the music on Lontano creates a coherent sound world, has an artistic point of view and many levels, and thus is well worth repeated listens. But no, you'll be missing the full impact of the music made by these musicians if you haven't heard the last two albums by this band, Soul Of Things (2001) and Suspended Night (2003), and much more if you haven't heard the music Tomasz Stanko has made over the breadth of his career.
Among Stanko's key releases, of particular interest are Krzysztof Komeda's Astigmatic (1965), the first appearance of "Kattorna"; and his first release for ECM, Balladyna (1976), the source of "Tale." Stanko's six ECM albums recorded during the '90s included the mature masterpieces like Leosia (2000), Litania (1997) and From The Green Hill (2000).
The new millennium brought a new, very young band to the forefront, and Stanko seemingly took a conservative turn. Talking about the three albums with Marcin Wasilweski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums), Stanko said, "Of the three albums recorded with the Polish quartet, this one is definitely the best. I treat them like a triptych. Soul of Things is childish; Suspended Night is mature and stable. Lontano is the quintessence of experience of sorts. It has some free playing, some reflection, and we also played Komeda's 'Kattorna.' Among my records this is the one I listened to the most after recording."
If there was a stylistic break from Green Hill to Soul Of Things, something similar has happened between Suspended Night and Lontano. This record feels like Stanko has come full circle and reintegrated his musical roots, also reflecting the shared influences between his bandmates and him. The new versions of "Kattorna" and "Tale" are no accident, and neither is the fact that the record is dominated by the three parts of the free "Lontano" series.
Stanko thinks the world of Wasilewski, and the pianist's playing is marvelous throughout. He seems to have subsumed some of the mannerisms of Bobo Stenson, who had a telepathic connection with Stanko. The contributions of Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz are less overt but just as important, since the quartet now acts with one mind.
The music of Lontano is full of intensity and concentration; dark, wide spaces; and, of course, that mournful Stanko trumpet. He still has the knack of creating a line that feels totally logical yet also seems to meander and circle. With Lontano, Stanko has managed to distill forty years of experience, honing and polishing it in order to reach new heights with this quartet.
Note: The Tomasz Stanko Quartet will be touring the US in October.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: bass; Michal Miskiewicz: drums.