June 15, 2024

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CD review: Tomasz Stanko – September Night – 2004 – 2024: Video, CD cover

In the two years since Tomasz Stanko’s much-loved “Soul of Things”, both the trumpeter and his young Polish band have continued to make their mark.

Many miles of touring, on both sides of the Atlantic, have honed their already exceptional group understanding.

“Suspended Night” builds upon the conceptual framework established by its predecessor – the bulk of the album is devoted to a series of haunting and soulful “Suspended Variations” – but the improvisational quotient is expanded, as all participants take more solo space, and more chances.

When Tomasz Stanko first started working with a trio of Polish teenagers in 1994 — Marcin Wasilewski, piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass; Michal Miskiewicz, drums — on film projects and live gigs inside his native land, he might have glimpsed, but surely never fully conceived of, the sound that the quartet’s relationship would offer a decade later.

Suspended Night, on ECM, follows the hugely successful Soul of Things on the same label. It is only the second international offering from this group, but the flowering and maturation of this creative relationship are nothing if not utterly stunning. This ensemble has developed its own bravely compelling yet tonally accessible voice in articulating Stanko’s unique compositional language; it is one that opens up the jazz tradition from the inside in startling and wonderful new directions. Suspended Night opens with “Song for Sarah,” a ballad that stresses the harmonic language utilized so wonderfully on Soul of Things.

Wasilewski’s intensely lyrical, Bill Evans-influenced style is the perfect complement to the languid tempo and moving melody of Stanko’s balladic utterance. Stanko’s playing of the melody moves directly in concert with his pianist’s chromatic subtleties, with unhurried, emotional nuance as the rhythm section punctuates his lines with shimmering, dancing colorations and whispers. The rest of the disc is made up of ten Suspended Variations.

They are compositions that offer enough skeletal direction and structure to allow a spacious inner freedom; improvisation feels effortless, innovative in terms of dynamic, tone, and harmonic invention as an exploration of tonal color is combined with space and melodic inquiry that is holistic and open-ended. The dynamic range here is also compelling as it seems to flow and extend rather than explode for the sake of releasing tensions.

Where Soul of Things concentrated on intimate dialogue, Suspended Night uses that exchange and extends both subtleties and vagaries while keeping the major tenets of its subject in full view, always with grace and a poetic elegance. This a major new lyric statement that actually looks at jazz as a future music of unfolding investigation rather than as merely a historic tradition celebrating itself. Suspended Night is essential for any serious jazz fan and a wonderful introduction to Stanko’s music as well.

I toured with Tomasz for several years. He had such a wild energy. He wanted to play every night and was constantly talking about the importance of playing concerts to develop as a musician and composer. I simply loved standing next to him on stage, he was such a warm, soulful and poetic player. He told a story with his horn every time he picked it up, there was never a need to show off or anything, he had something on his mind, something in his heart that he needed to express. It was truly beautiful to witness.

When I joined his band I did not really feel like the guitar was the right sound for the music. Tomasz did not agree. He encouraged me to explore my instrument from different angles, encouraged me to dive into the world of effect pedals and to use the guitar in ways I had never used it before. He gave me complete freedom on stage to find a room within the music for me to be myself. I love him for that. It was indescribably meaningful and one of the great lessons of my musical life to play, tour and record with him for so many years

I can think of no better way to celebrate his music and legacy in New York than with this great cast.

Recorded at Munich’s Muffathalle twenty years ago, in September 2004, this previously-unreleased concert recording of the Tomasz Stanko Quartet is a fascinating document, capturing a developmental chapter in the music between the song forms of the Suspended Night repertoire and the improvised areas that the Polish musicians would explore on Lontano The Munich show was a highlight in a year in which the Stanko Quartet played a record number of gigs, with extensive tours of the US and Europe. The great trumpeter himself is at his charismatic best here, playing superbly, clearly inspired by the energetic support and communicative power of Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, the dynamic young players for whom he had been a mentor. The live album was produced by Manfred Eicher.

Album artwork for September Night by Tomasz Stanko Quartet

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