Tomasz Stanko In Ann Arbor
One of Europe's most renowned individualists, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has experienced somewhat of a comeback since releasing his ECM album The Soul Of Things about two years ago. His first US tour in support of the disc brought rave reviews, both in terms of the further solidification of Stanko's unique style and for the discovery of the trumpeter's group of amazing youngsters who played with a fire and cohesion that could rival many a New York rhythm section. Not content to let any grass grow under his feet, Stanko has been busy since the start of 2004, with European tours throughout February, March, and April and the release of his latest ECM effort Suspended Night in May.
Part of an eleven-city US tour in June, Stanko and his quartet made a rare appearance at Ann Arbor's Firefly Club, a well-designed space that makes for intimate listening no matter where you happen to sit. Although it would have been interesting to make a comparison to see how much Stanko's young band had grown since their last time in the States, this reviewer did not take in any shows from the 2002 tour. Nonetheless, one would be hard pressed to find a tighter rhythm section anywhere, regardless of location. Pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz displayed a hook up that at times almost approached telepathy.
Throughout two sets of music, Stanko and his ensemble paced themselves well with a variety of pieces from both The Soul Of Things and Suspended Night. As the group's anchor, pianist Wasilewski is not only a technically gifted artist, but he was particularly adept at telling a story with his solos and contributing to a wide-ranging ebb and flow. At times his lines and harmonies displayed a hard bop mentality akin to McCoy Tyner, but his more abstract statements recalled Cecil Taylor and several pieces found him reaching into the piano to strike the strings with a mallet.
Stanko was a master of moods, opening up several numbers alone before establishing a pulse and making way for the entrance of the trio. In addition to a sharp-edged tone and a fluid mastery of his upper register, Stanko's sound at times reflected the influence of mid '60s Miles. Interestingly enough, many of the trumpeter's pieces seemed to also include melodic fragments that sounded quite familiar, such as a snippet from Nat Adderley's "Never Say Yes" that happened to perk my ears at some point during the second set.
With a more visceral and incendiary spirit than I had anticipated, Stanko and his band mates left a lasting impression with their music and certainly it would be hard to imagine that anyone went away discontented.
C. Andrew Hovan