Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 10-11, July 3-4, 2010

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
July 4: Tomasz Stańko

At the other end of the generational spectrum, but demonstrating the same kind of clear growth, was Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his group, whose 2009 performance at Molde Jazz was nothing short of exceptional, but whose show at the 2010 OIJF's Improv Invitational bore no shortage of change, and all for the better. When Stańko played at Molde in July 2009, his group—featuring two Danes (guitarist Jakob Bro and electric bassist Anders "A.C." Christensen"), and two Finns (pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori)—had only recorded its ECM debut, Dark Eyes, three months prior in April. With very little gigging under its belt, the performance was strong, but at times a tad tentative.

There was no sign reluctance at the quintet's Ottawa performance, but its chemistry—a clear promise at Molde but now delivered—was as palpable as that of Christian Scott's earlier in the day. Drawing on a mix of material from Dark Eyes and a preponderance of new songs—recorded recently during the group's show at Birdland in New York—the entire group played with energy and commitment, as well as greater space to let the music breathe, even at its most intense. Stańko's raspy tone has never sounded better, his solos more ardent, and his encouragement of his younger players more apparent. With the concept of mentoring in jazz becoming a thing of the past, Stańko is one of the fewer older players who is trying to continue the tradition. This the second time in a decade that the trumpeter has put together a group of younger players, though this time not as inexperienced. Unlike the group that recorded three albums for ECM—Soul of Things (2002), Suspended Night (2004) and Lontano (2008)—Stańko's current quartet features players who are leader in their own right.

Bro, in particular, has an already sizable discography as a leader, including his most recent Balladeering (Loveland, 2009), a terrific all-star disc including Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz, Ben Street and Paul Motian. A player who favors economy and care over overt virtuosity and reckless abandon, Bro nevertheless delivered solos that were filled with significance; he even fills a decaying note with meaning, avoiding a guitarist tendency to use vibrato to sustain it, instead holding it pure and true with just the slightest pull at the end of a phrase to give it tension. Building long, methodical solos—with the notes added in the lower register to create a sense of harmonic motion, even when the group was working modal territory with a propulsive pedal tone from A.C.—an a capella solo mid-set was more air than sound, but remained impressive in its focus and sense of construction, drawing a huge round of applause from the over-capacity and enthusiastic audience.

At Molde, Tuomarila was, with the possible exception of Stańko himself, the group's most vital player; if anything, a year of gigging has encouraged him to lay back more, making his last solo of the night stand out even more. Two chordal instruments in a group can often be a recipe for disaster, but with both Tuomarila and Bro communicating on a deep level, they managed to push the group harmonically—largely working with modal material based on propulsive pedal tones, but also change-heavy on a couple of tunes—without ever getting in each other's way.

A.C.—who, in addition to his own releases as a leader, including Dear Someone (Stunt, 2009), was member of Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band—only played one solo early in the set, on Stańko's "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch," but anchored the group throughout the set with the same kind of upper register pulse so definitive of Steve Swallow. Louhivuori, on the other hand, was a firebrand; playing with a combination of restraint and abandon, he created a turbulent underpinning during rubato passages, but swung mightily in the latter part of "The Dark Eyes," supporting both Stańko's visceral solo and Bro, who combined gritty tone with avant-Wes Montgomery-isms and a lyrical bent turned on its side with curious bends and dissonant touches. The drummer's own solo, during the set-closer, "Euforila," was a master class in touch, technique and musicality; ever humble, when the crowd roared with applause at the end of his solo, looking skywards, smiling and, almost with a sense of relief, mouthing "thank you" to the crowd.

Not only was the group a more empathic, connected unit than it was a year ago; Stańko's music also demonstrated a fundamental shift, at least during part of the set. The melancholic, ambiguous or minor-keyed harmonies were still there, but some rare excursions into major territory gave his music a sense of optimism that's been rarely heard his career—certainly not since he returned to ECM in the mid-'90s with Matka Joanna (1995). The music ran from lengthy improvisational explorations to brief, compose miniatures, but throughout his 90- minute set, Stańko played with energy and power that belied his nearly 68 years (his birthday is on July 11). His group proved unequivocally that the trumpeter's commitment to mentoring younger of musicians—and the unmistakable and unfailing trust he clearly has in them, as evidenced by the freedom he clearly provides them to continue evolving their own voices—is born out by the evolution that has taken place in the past year. If Lontano demonstrated a remarkable growth of his last quartet, there's little doubt that this quintet's forthcoming live album—Stańko's first—will not only capture where this group is today, but where it's headed tomorrow as well.

Visit The Wide Alley, Neil Cowley Trio, Christian Scott, Tomasz Stańko and TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles