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Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: Copenhagen, Denmark, July 6, 2013

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet
Copenhagen Jazzhouse
Copenhagen, Denmark
July 6, 2013

In the 1960s, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko emerged as a major talent on the European jazz scene. His unique musical voice was recognized by his legendary countryman, pianist Krzysztof Komeda, who enlisted him to be part of his groundbreaking masterpiece Astigmatic (Muza, 1966). Later, Stańko paid homage to his mentor on Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda (ECM, 1997), and even today Komeda's spirit looms large over Stańko's work. This is especially evident in his latest musical incarnation, the so-called New York Quartet, consisting of drummer Gerald Cleaver, bassist Thomas Morgan and new piano light, David Virelles.

As part of the program of Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2013, Stańko's quartet played a masterful concert at the newly refurbished Copenhagen Jazzhouse, where bassist Ben Street replaced Morgan. While Morgan and Street are stylistically related and share a superior sense of space, Street is essentially more groove-oriented, less minimalistic and downplayed in his approach. This also meant that the more hectic and aggressive side of Stańko's music was allowed more room than is the case on the lyrical Wislawa (ECM, 2013), which provided the material for the concert.

The album hints at the iconoclastic potential of the group, especially a composition like the Komeda-influenced "Assassins," which shows a departure from the signature lyricism that Stańko perfected with his Polish quartet, featuring pianist Marcin Wasilewski, on such masterpieces as Suspended Night (ECM, 2004) and Lontano (ECM, 2006).

In Virelles, Stańko has found a pianist that is able to bring him back to his avant-garde roots, but this is rarely shown on the album. Live, however, is where the full potential of this group is realized.

Virelles played with a refreshing wildness, bringing out the percussive touch of a Cecil Taylor, but also proving capable of great lyrical beauty when he corresponded emphatically to Wislawa's title track, one of the album's strongest compositions. Few can compose and shape such haunting melodies as Stańko.

Street added an extra sense of dynamic in the group, playing in close tandem with Virelles; together they created many explosive and abstract grooves, while Cleaver played with less accent on the beat, instead adding a fluorescent sense of space and swing that made him just as much a sound-painter as he was a timekeeper.

Stańko showed his familiar trademarks: brassy flourishes, curly lines and the warm open sound of his melodies that come to him as naturally as breathing. He was wearing a brown T-shirt with the logo "Diesel" and, quite significantly, neither he nor his band ran out of fuel.

Stańko didn't say much, preferring to let the music do the talking. The performance showed that he is in a new and fertile space where the productive ambiguity between dissonance and lyricism, and chaos and order, is allowed more space than in the perfect beauty of his past works. Virelles, especially, seems like the man who can push Stańko into new territory, if he is allowed as much influence on future records as he demonstrated in concert.

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