Tomasz Stanko Quartet Norfolk and Norwich Festival St Peter Mancroft Church
May 3, 2009
Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko (pictured left) brought his quartet to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival for the first time, to perform in the beautiful 15th Century St. Peter Mancroft Church in the center of Norwich. The venue suited Stanko's ethereal trumpet style perfectly, even if its high vaulted roof was less-than-perfect acoustically. The performance was skillful, emotive and engaging, drawing the audience into his music with apparently effortless ease.
Stanko, a dapper, bespectacled figure, prowled the stage while playing, thanks to the wireless microphone setup on his trumpet. In contrast, fellow musicians Marcin Wasilewski on piano, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz were constrained by their instruments. Stanko therefore became the focal point of the quartet visually as well as musically, although he always stood respectfully to one side of the stage when his fellow musicians were soloing.
The quartet played a single set, lasting 90 minutes, followed by a short but well-deserved encore. As an ensemble the group is extremely cohesive, showing a mutual understanding and awareness that has developed over years of playing together. At times during Stanko and Wasilewski's quieter solos the drums and bass were too intrusive, but this was probably the fault of the venue's medieval architecture. Most of the tunes were played at slow or medium tempos and at relatively low volume, but occasional faster tempos and higher volumes, especially one or two pieces with an almost hard-bop feel, ensured primarily excellent dynamics throughout the evening.
Stanko's own solos varied in pace and intensity but always displayed control and thoughtfulness. Wasilewski's solos were equally impressive. The pianist displayed speed and lightness of touch, using the higher register to memorable effect in creating a distinctive and fresh style.
This is a group that takes its playing seriously and places the music very firmly center stage. There was little if any verbal interaction among the musicians and no attempt to engage the audience with anything other than the music. Stanko spoke only once, to say thank you and to introduce the band at the end of the set. Individual tunes were not announced: occasionally it seemed as if one tune segued directly into another, and it's probable that only the most knowledgeable fan would have recognized every composition played.
But the concert's success didn't come from the recognition of individual pieces: it came from the musicians' ability to create an atmospheric soundscape across 90 minutes of beautifully composed and performed music. Hearing it was a pleasure and a privilege. Bringing this talented quartet to Norwich was another Festival success.