The Beatles got it wrong. When you're 64, Lennon & McCartney predicted, you'll be ready for the knackers yard. But the lovable moptops were only in their twenties then, like Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and each had already changed the shape of things, the Beatles with "She Loves You" (1963), Stanko on Astigmatic (1965). It was a young man's world.
But at the near-venerable age of 64, Stanko has recorded a major modern masterpiece: a perfect exploration of the hinterland between freedom and stucture, and the finest exposition ever of his achingly soulful balladry. It is as important an album in Stanko's trajectory as Kind Of Blue, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew were to Miles Davis. It is, really, that deep and that beautiful.
Lontano is the third album Stanko has made with his supporting trio of young Polish musicians, following Soul Of Things (ECM, 2001) and Suspended Night (ECM, 2003). Rather as did Leosia (ECM, 1996), made with Bobo Stenson (piano), Anders Jormin (bass) and Tony Oxley (drums), it captures a band at a peak of comradeship and creativity, given added piquancy by the disparity in age between leader and other band members.
The core of the album is the collective improvisation, "Lontano," whose three parts total forty minutes. It's here that the perfect symmetry of the group is most awesomely displayed. Pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were fast off the blocks five years ago. Today they're Olympian. Interactive enough to follow Stanko beat for beat when it feels right, and confident enough to adjust the collective rudder individually from time to time. This is free music at its most harmonious and cohesive, and it is ineffably wonderful.
Elsewhere, Stanko references Litania (1997), his celebration of the music of the Polish composer, and Stanko's own mentor, Krzysztof Komeda (Rosemary's Baby, Knife In The Water and much more). "Kattorna," first recorded by Stanko on the Krzysztof Komeda Quintet's Astigmatic, brings a bracing reminder of Komeda's jumpy, jittery, Iron Curtain noir to the album. The other departure is the appropriately named "Sweet Thing," all sun and smiles and decollatage.
Most artists, of course, never get to make an album of this stature. Stanko has made a mind-melting threeLontano, Leosia and Litaniaall of them during his mature years. So will we still be sending him a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine? I think so.
Visit Tomasz Stanko on the web.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double bass; Michal Miskiewicz: drums.