Live Reviews: Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Tomasz Stanko has been around. The Polish trumpeter, who formed his first band in the early sixties, has compiled a body of performance and discography over 45 years that establishes him as one of the most accomplished instrumentalists in jazz (though speculating on why Down Beat continues to list him as a ‘rising star’ in its annual poll could form an essay in itself). His gifts were displayed in sparkling context in September at Dublin’s Vicar Street, where, with his young rhythm section, he presented a wonderful suite-like programme before an audience enriched by many fans from Ireland’s Polish community.
Stanko cut his teeth on free jazz, playing in the early days with, among others, Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor. In recent years his music has grown more accessible, but his playing and writing retain certain essential qualities: intense lyricism, vocalised inflections, asymmetrical composition, and a deft economy of sound. His current accompaniment, with him for over 12 years, provides an ideal setting for his vision. The group understanding between the players is exceptional, and the spare beauty of Stanko’s tunes is never dimmed.
The evening’s eight pieces had a narrative feel – almost as if variations on a theme. Six originals were complemented by a pair of tunes by the film-score composer Krysztof Komeda, whose influence can be felt in the haunting, cinematic movement of much of Stanko’s work. ‘Elegant Piece’, ‘Tale’ and Komeda’s ‘Song for Ania’ shared an ethereal gentleness that benefited greatly from the impressionistic interplay of the rhythm section – though Stanko, who understands the importance of creative tension, often spiked the mood with unexpected twists and darting melodic lines. And though most of the programme was in this reflective vein, ‘Euforila’ showed that the band could handle the vocabulary of hard bop with ease and originality.
Like Miles Davis, with whom he is often compared, Stanko is comfortable with long lines, slow tempos and dynamic shifts, and he uses silence effectively. But his sound is very much his own, carefully honed to the task of shaping the themes and variations of his compositions. He has nurtured his youthful quartet colleagues well; they understand their leader’s music implicitly and are equally comfortable swinging sweetly or playing free. In particular, Marcin Wasilewski’s piano moved across different modes with effortless ease, starting the tune ‘Cyrhia’, for example, as a hesitant ballad before transforming it into a near-modal blues.
This visit was Stanko’s third to Ireland, and it is gratifying to see him received with attention and respect by a large audience – for he is, as Gerry Godley said in his introduction, ‘a European master’ who uses his vast experience as a platform for music that is fresh, vibrant, and always interesting.
Published on 1 November 2007
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.