Tomasz Stanko Quintet Dark Eyes ECM Records
It has been a regular event at the ECM label for artists to change line-ups after three albums. After a trio of releases with the prodigiously talented pianist Marcin Wasilewski(Soul of Things (ECM, 2002), Suspended Night (ECM, 2003) and Lontano (ECM, 2006)Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko debuts a new and exciting quintet. Dark Eyes is a collection of smoky compositions that evidence Stanko's continuing interest in the tension between composed and improvised music, as well as venturing into territories new. Mining a similar sonic palette to Leosisa (ECM, 1997) and Matka Joanna (ECM, 1994), the album has a seductive throb and rhythmic propulsion not previously heard. It smoulders with mystery, elegance and mournful beauty with the occasional flare of hard-bop fire.
Featuring a mix of Finnish and Danish musicians, the quintet's up-tempo approach is enhanced by it inclusion of electricity. The line-up features guitarist Jakob Bro and electric bassist Anders Christensen, who have both worked with drummer Paul Motian. The use of these two players isn't out of step with Stanko's previous efforts, though they provide a markedly denser foundation for the trumpeter's lyrical, gauze-like, tone poetry. Bro in particular adds a new coloration. With a tone that suggests dew drenched cobwebs shimmering in the wind, and owing a debt to Bill Frisell, Bro's filigreed solos and swathes of opiate-like chords are suitably restrained and economical. Christensen often shadows pianist Alexi Tuomarila while adding vigor to the more forceful material.
Drummer Olavi Louhivuori is a sensational addition and is the back-bone of the quintet. Driving the noir-ish bop of "Grand Central" and the dark undulations of "Terminal 7" with brilliantly inventive rhythms, Louhivuori's rolls and fills at times recall Tony Oxley's work with Stanko, albeit voiced with a more vaporous texture. Subtlety is a strength of this young Finn, who enriches Stanko's lyricism and resonates strikingly on the soaring melody of the opening track, "So Nice."
In Alexi Tuomarila, Stanko has a perfect replacement for pianist Marcin Wasilewski. Tuomarila's playing, like Bro's, is spacious and full of the sensitivity the made Wasilewski's pairing with the trumpeter so great. Tuomarila paints with a varying approach dependent on the material, employing warm chords juxtaposed with droplets of high register scales on "Amsterdam Avenue," and strong low-end drive on "Grand Central."
Dark Eyes' central piece, "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch," based on Stanko's encounter with the Oskar Kokoschka painting of that name, runs the gamut of styles presented on the new record. Beginning with a slow burning arch, thick with ambience and bristling with delicate brush work, Stanko's sombre melody rises and falls with icicle-like accompaniment from Turmarila. The band goes into full swing with a knotty bop melody after a deliberate bass statement from Christensen. Here Stanko returns to the fire of his early career with a ferocious scree and flurry of notes. Sparse chords from Bro and Turmalia provide the space for Louhivourhi's shuffle, before eventually exchanging solo flights. The melody then decreases in intensity, a process punctuated by a few dramatic swells, signalling the track's conclusion in typically fractured Stanko style. The ending provides the perfect introduction to "Grand Central," whose tempo is faster and more pulsating, sounding like a direct continuation of the previous suite.
It is Dark Eyes' variety of moods that makes it such a compelling entry into Stanko's impressive canon. The variety is enhanced by atmospheric vignettes like "Dirge for Europe" and "Samba Nova" which contain Stanko's trademark rubato compositional approach. The album is a consolidation of his previous experiments, even harkening back to his work with composer Krzysztof Komeda with "Eituda Baletowa No.3" and a reading of "Last Song" from the trumpeter's defining Balladyna (ECM, 1975) album with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Edward Vesala. The music is allowed to breath, giving ample room for each musician, and is drenched with cinematic atmosphere. Stanko's performance is as brilliant as those familiar with his work would expect, and the edgier sound palette heard on tracks like "Grand Central" in no way sacrifices listenability.
The prospect of where Stanko's quintet might go with this music is an exciting one. Dark Eyes could be the start of something utterly bewitching, entrancing and marvelous.
Tracks: So Nice; Terminal 7; The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch; Grand Central; Amesterdam Avenue; Samba Nova; Dirge for Europe; May Sun; Last Song; Etiuda Baletowa No. 3.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Jakob Bro: guitar; Anders Christensen: electric bass; Alexi Tuomarila: piano; Olavi Louhivuori: drums.