Much of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's output in the '00s featured the piano trio of countrymen Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz. Dark Eyes is a departurethe first recording to feature the Polish icon's new quintet with pianist Alexi Tuomarila, guitarist Jakob Bro bassist Anders Christensen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori.
Bit by bit, the band's seductive rapport and cagey dynamics are revealed: first the rubato portent and spaciousness of "So Nice," then a marked shift to a rock-like beat and cutting Bb-minor ostinato in "Terminal 7," later the spiky unison lines of "Amsterdam Avenue" and even a Stanko piece with no trumpet at all, the hypnotic three-minute sketch "May Sun." The music hews to a strategy of slow development and deferred gratification in "Samba Nova," which isn't a samba until about halfway through its nine-plus minutes. "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch," another of the longer pieces, undergoes a similar transition from airy rubato to upbeat swing, following a sequence of ensemble melodies and subdued bass improvisations arranged as a call-and-response.
Stanko paid tribute to his late mentor Krzysztof Komeda with his 1997 album Litania (ECM) and there are two Komeda pieces included here as well, "Dirge for Europe" and the ballad "Etiuda Baletowa No. 3." Stanko's version is uncannily reminiscent of "Flamenco Sketches" from Kind of Blue in terms of rhythmic pacing and light/dark harmonic contrasts.
Christensen plays electric bass on Dark Eyes, although his warm, natural tone can lead listeners to think otherwise. Bro's delicate but unmistakably electric guitar adds a sweet sonic expanse, as do Louhivuori's varied percussive textures. The piano sound, too, is glowingeven by ECM's high standards, Dark Eyes boasts uncommonly fine audio. All the better to hear Stanko, who prefers open trumpet even in the hazy, ethereal settings where many players would opt for a mute.
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.
Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Alexi Tuomarila: piano; Jakob Bro: guitar; Anders Christensen: bass; Olavi Louhivuori: drums.