Tomasz Stanko Quartet/Lontano

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Tomasz Stanko and his current group featuring pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz confirm with Lontano that they are among the best, sharpest, and most consistently listenable jazz ensembles of the day. On The Soul of Things, they established themselves as a group of young Turks who could admirably keep pace and back veteran trumpeter Stanko. On the followup release Suspended Night, they came farther to the forefront and not only kept pace with but actively pushed Stanko, resulting in some of his best work as well. The rhythm section released their own CD, Trio last year, and it was a revelation as the group, sans Stanko, produced a variety of textures and styles as well as featuring several tracks that were group improvisations/compositions.

On Lontano they do the same, this time with Tomasz Stanko leading the way. There is more free playing here than on any previous release by this group. The three long sections of the title track, interspersed throughout the album, are just the kind of improvisations that the trio featured on their own recording. While the band does push Stanko, who sounds great on this recording, they clearly take inspiration from his as well. His Miles Davis-inspired tone, his use of space, and his ability to play lyrically without smoothing out all the rough edges keep things moving forward.

Pianist Wasilewski is brilliant, the perfect counterpoint to Stanko’s voice, with his spare, Bill Evans-meets-Keith Jarrett meditations and his warm chord voicings that, when paired with Stanko, often creates music of absolutely heartbreaking beauty. Miskiewicz does have long stretches of playing around the implied beat, a la Paul Motian, but he is not averse to locking into a bit of a groove, as he does in the final third of “Lontano I,” the album’s opener. The three “Lontano” pieces are all lengthy (between twelve and fifteen mintues) and allow plenty of time for the musicians to stretch out with their ideas. Their length allows for changes of tone and tempo within the same section, creating mini-sections that are sometimes reminiscent of Suspended Night.

The rest of the compositions are all Stanko’s except “Kattorna,” composed by Polish jazz legend Krystof Komeda. “Tale,” which closes the album, is a Stanko composition that was first heard on his 1974 ECM debut recording Balladyna. Again, it benefits from the interplay between Stanko’s beautifully lyrical trumpet lines and Wasilewski’s delicate yet somehow strong piano work. Balladic compositions such as “Cyrhia,” “Song For Ania” and “Sweet Thing” are beautiful, but they also demonstrate very well the interplay between the musicians. While neither Kurkiewicz nor Miskiewicz is a powerful, front-loaded presence, their contributions in underpinning the more obvious flights of Stanko and Wasilewski are right on the mark. Furthermore, their strength without overpowering the sound of the group is essential to the success of this program.

Krystof’s “Kattorna” and a couple of sections of the “Lontano” cycle do get the rhythm going, but overall this is album is a bit more elegiac than Suspended Night, and some might feel that it lacks overall energy. But it didn’t seem as though the group’s concentration ever failed here—they were clearly always listening closely to each other and interacting like old friends. At an hour and a quarter, Lontano never has to demand or beg for the listener’s attention. It’s another outstanding outing from Tomasz Stanko and his Quartet, with the added bonus that the group’s current North American tour will feature many more stops than any previous tour. Get familiar with Lontano and then get out and see these guys.

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