Molde Jazz: Day 2, July 14, 2009
With three albums under its belt for ECMSoul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004), and Lontano (2006)it was inevitable that Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko's quartet, featuring pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, should have run its courseat least for the label. With the exception of Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, there are few, if any, artists who have released more than three albums with the same line-up; a signal, perhaps, of label head/primary producer Manfred Eicher's restless pursuit of something new.
What's most encouraging about Stańko's new quintet, featuring a mix of Danish and Finnish musicians, is that he's continuing to mentor younger players at a time when that longstanding tradition continues to be on the wane. With a forthcoming release, currently titled Dark Eyes (but still subject to change), the Tomasz Stańko Quintet's performance at the Alexandra was one of its first since recording the album this past April in France and, while there were clear indicators of a group still finding its feet, its promise was abundantly clear from the first tune, a fiery modal workout that provided an early feature for Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila.
Tuomarila continued to be one of the quintet's most impressive members throughout the 100-minute set, along with fellow Finn, drummer Olavi Louhivuori, who was a flexible player equally capable of creating broad colors and delicate textures, in addition to creating powerful pulses where time was often as much implied as it was discretely delivered. Still on the shy side of 30, Louhivuori was also a potent soloist, especially towards the end of a set of all new, unannounced compositions that were unequivocally Stańko's, when he entered into a blazing exchange with the trumpeter. Stańko may have left the vast majority of the solo space to his younger band mates, but he still proved capable of delivering serpentine melodies and unmistakably rich solos with his immediately recognizable, raspy tone.
Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is, perhaps, the most well-known of Stańko's new bunch, not only for his own records, including the impressive The Stars are All New Songs Vol. 1 (Loveland, 2008), but for his membership in drummer Paul Motian's Band, heard on Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006). Still, while Bro warmed up over the course of the performance, delivering two particularly strong solos that were filled with curious horizontal intervallic jumps and a particularly sensitive expression, especially on the Latin-tinged closer that ended the set, he had previously appeared somewhat tentative. Still, this is an early gig and there's no doubt that Bro, along with the rest of the group, will gain confidence and strength as time goes on.
Fellow Dane, bassist Anders Christensen, is perhaps the most unusual choice for the groupplaying, as he does, a fretted Fender electric bass rather than double-bass, which he also plays. Still, as another Motian alum from the drummer's Electric Bebop Band around the turn of the decade, he's by no means an unseasoned player, just one whose appearancestyled hair, tight jeans and "Legalize LA: Immigration Reform Now" T-shirtseemed more suited to indie rock rather than a jazz group that ranged from abstract impressionism to moments of simmering energy. Still, he created a rock-solid foundation for the rest of the groupessential, really, especially because of Louhivuori's more expressionist tendenciesand delivered a number of short but intriguing solos of his own, channeling a bit of Steve Swallow but with a less expansive vernacular.
l:r: Anders Christensen, Olavi Louhivuori, Tomasz Stańko, Jakob Bro
Stańko's writing continues to be distinctive, a combination of rubato tone poems and more outgoing compositions that provided the trumpeter ample opportunity to demonstrate his piercing upper register and growling lower end. As distinctly lyrical as ever, what's most evident about Stańko, given it's been three years since his last release for ECM, is that it really doesn't matter who's playing his music as long as they're good (which this quintet certainly is). No matter what the context, Stańko's voiceboth compositional and in performanceremains abundantly clear and identifiable, and if his quintet's performance at Alexandra was any indicationwarts and allhis forthcoming album is going to be another winner.
Tomorrow: Christian Wallumrød Ensemble with Arve Henriksen, Kristin Asbjørnsen.
All Photos: John Kelman