Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Dark Eyes (2010)
As a trumpeter, Tomasz Stanko clearly owes a debt to Miles Davis; yet, after four decades making some of the most arresting small ensemble jazz music in Europe, the Polish veteran perhaps deserves to be considered in the same category as the iconic legend. As a trumpeter, composer and leader, Stanko has few peers, past or present. Dark Eyes introduces Stanko's exciting new band after three wonderful recordings with pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slavomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, and signals another chapter in the evolution of one of jazz's most significant voices.
It would have been easy to continue to ride the success of the old quartet but, like Davis, Stanko reaches a kind of perfection and then moves on. From the early sixties, when Stanko was one of the first to immerse himself in free jazz, to solo trumpet recordings in India like Music from the Taj Mahal and Karla Caves (Leo Records, 1980), Stanko has never played it safe. Another facet of the creative spirit he shares with Davis is Stanko's ability to recognize and nurture new talent, and the chemistry in this new line-up suggests another great ensemble in the making.
The music is not such a seismic shift from Lontano (ECM, 2006)the same blue tonality, elegance and melodic beauty runs through Dark Eyes. Drummer Olavi Louhivuori does, however, bring slightly more rhythmic urgency to the mix on tracks like "Terminal 7"a soundtrack to a psychological thriller"Samba Nova," and "Grand Central," though his brushes flutter like bird's wings on the balladic opener, "So Nice." Electric bassist Anders Christensen brings further textural changes to Stanko's music, with his drone-like thrum and moody ruminations bringing a noirish, urbane feel to the music. The sparing use of emerging guitarist Jacob Bro adds an extra dimension, and his subtle, atmospheric phrasing recalls John McLaughlin on Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969).
There is great cohesion in the quintet's sound, though inevitably, perhaps, it is Stanko's personality which dominates. There is, at times, tremendous delicacy in his playing, as on "So Nice," or explosive exclamations like an elephant war cry on the striking "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch," the highly impressionistic centerpiece of the CD, and a tune possessed of smoldering intensity; the quintet's sound building gradually and powerfully, as though the initial contemplation of the Oskar Kokoschka picture, which inspired the composition, were giving way to complete absorption.
A subdued minimalism infuses most of the tracks, particularly the melancholic "Dirge for Europe," and gently hypnotic "May Sun," which features the new hires minus the leader, on a beautiful miniature that captures the essence of a spring dawn unfolding. Stanko has an uncanny knack of producing simple yet seductive melodies and, although Dark Eyes may be a touch too subdued and uniformly understated to really stand out from his considerable oeuvre, there is no doubting the stark beauty of the music present here.
Track Listing: So Nice; Terminal 7; The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch; Grand Central; Amsterdam Avenue; Samba Nova; Dirge for Europe; May Sun; Last Song; Etiuda Baletowa No.3.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Alexi Tuomarila: piano; Jakob Bro: guitar; Anders Christensen: bass; Olavi Louhivuori: drums.