How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
No matter how much you like a record, after repeat listenings it runs the risk of becoming almost too familiar. As adventurous as it may be, the very nature of the recording process, where every note and texture is given permanency, can cause even the best albums to lose their sense of adventure and immediacy. Not so with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, whose catalogue since returning to ECM in the mid-'90s has been characterized by daring imagination and a distinctive vernacular. His latest release, Suspended Night , joins the rest of his ECM output as an album that sounds new every time it is played; each spin sounds like the first time. And that's as strong an accolade as one can give.
Stanko reconvenes the same group that played on '02's marvelous Soul of Things : pianist Marcin Wasilewski, double-bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michael Miszkiewicz, also known as Simple Acoustic Trio. Much has been written about how Stanko took these young players under his wing while they were still in their teens (they are now in their mid-twenties), and groomed them into what is arguably the most in synch support he has ever had. As simpatico as they were on Soul of Things , two years of extensive touring has honed them into an even stronger ensemble, at once capable of expressive bursts of freedom and moments of dark beauty.
With the exception of the opening track, the characteristically melancholy "Song for Sarah," the rest of Suspended Night follows the same format as Soul of Things ; numbered variations. Why Stanko avoids song titles is a mystery, but one could suppose that, like on Soul of Things , he continues to mine the same spirit, the same soul and so track titles become meaningless.
Once again Stanko and the group explore, with few exceptions, medium and slow tempos, although there is a little more fire on this record. "II" and "V' are up- tempo, but still fit in with the rest of the programme by virtue of their dark nature; "VIII," however, is almost optimistic, and that is something new for Stanko. Perhaps the international interest that has been growing since the release of Soul of Things has something to do with it; still, the majority of the record continues to examine darker corners and is sometimes, as in the case of "X," downright bleak.
It is almost pointless to discuss the performances. Stanko, with his raspy yet rich sound, is as broodingly lyrical as ever; the rest of the group are evolving as accompanists and soloists. Wasilewski, always an impressionistic player, is surprisingly outgoing on the up-tempo tracks, and Miszkiewicz delivers an uncharacteristically powerful solo over the ostinato of "II." The strength of the group is their ability to be both abstract and accessible at the same time; Suspended Night manages to make the brooding beautiful, the haunting attractive; and is another entry in a continuing series of musical triumphs for Stanko.
Track Listing: Song for Sarah; Suspended Variations: I-X.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Marcin Wasilewski: piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz: double-bass;
Michal Miszkiewicz: drums.