The Tomasz Stanko Quartet at Birdland

Budd Kopman By

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Tomasz Stanko Quartet
New York, NY
October 28, 2006
Birdland was sold out on this night, and, as was the case in March 2005 for the Suspended Nights tour, the air was bubbling with Polish. The crowd, while highly anticipatory, was quite serious, but of a markedly different kind than for the Bobo Stenson Trio last April.

This crowd was here for trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, for Lontano, and to hear the next phase of the band's development. The seriousness was the response to Stanko's dual projections of deep melancholy and supreme optimism, of sorrow and beauty, of a career that covers four decades and which spans beginning with the thrilling Astigmatic by Krzysztof Komeda in the mid sixties through the mature beauty of Leosia, Litania and From The Green Hill in the nineties to the latest phase with his young, rapidly evolving compatriots.
Lontano is the third release of a triptych that includes The Soul Of Things and Suspended Night, and in many ways marks the return of Stanko to his roots in free jazz and the brashness of youth, but now mixed with the wisdom of experience.

Very much like the Suspended Night performance, this set featured the album played pretty much in order. However, since Lontano is dominated by the three free form improvisational versions of the title tune, the show had the feeling of flowing water where each piece partook of the previous and led to the next, producing one long, constantly changing melody. Stanko has a very strong stage presence and led the group despite not playing that much. Most of the time, he introduced the tune, playing a little on it and then stepping to the side to let the band take off, coming back to comment on what they had just done and to recap.

The still young trio of Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums) has grown enormously since last year and is very tight, using very few overt cues to synch up. While Wasilewski was the clear leader last year, this year there is full interplay and projection by Kurkiewicz who played much more aggressively and particularly Miskiewicz who many times drove the band.

The band had been touring for the past three weeks and there was an edge of weariness to go along with the mix of intensity and concentration. Wasilewski seemed particularly edgy, perhaps from a loud patron right behind him, and he bent over the keyboard even more than before, looking like a combination of Glenn Gould and Bill Evans as he seemed to try pull and caress notes and chords from the piano. Kurkiewicz plays a small bass with a very long pin, and he impressed both during his solos and when he supported the others with a very melodic yet solidly rhythmic feel.

For all of the wonderful playing, on this night to these ears, Miskiewicz was the propulsive heartbeat and the glue for those wonderful times when the band would develop a head of steam and drive together in the "Lontanos" or the reworking of the Komeda tune, "Kattorna."

The evening's music was very European and very Stanko, which means tightly coiled and centered, dark and beautiful, always highly emotional and very rewarding.


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