Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best European jazz trumpet players around and the new Tomasz Stanko Quartet stands ready to add a new dimension to European jazz. Working with a quintet made up of young, accomplished Polish players, Stanko has produced two recordings—The Soul of Things and the brand new Suspended Night—that are as defining and innovative as was the Miles Davis Quintet comprised of Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter.
The opening cut, “Song For Sarah” is a hugely warm slab of romanticism that is a showcase for both Stanko’s haunting, restrained trumpet sound and pianist Marcin Wasilewski’s balmy piano work, a potent combination of Bill Evans-esque romantic impressionism and classical technique. The piece is something of a prelude for what’s to come, but it also provides a moment of unabashed beauty untempered by tension that will not be present in the “Suspended Night” variations that follow. There, the gorgeousness is always a bit bluer, more melancholy, as it is on the very first variation. Drummer Michal Miskiewicz keeps the interest level high with a constant ruffle of rhythm that never settles anywhere until near the three-minute mark when the piece segues into a swinging piece that could be a long lost outtake from Kind of Blue.
The second Variation sets up a fast rhumba-style rhythm that changes feel again after a minute and a half into a swinging section that sounds like something from an early Herbie Hancock Blue Note before it locks abruptly back into rhumba step. The piece is an amazing display by a band that is clearly gelling in amazing ways. The comparisons to Davis’ quintet are not meant to be either hyperbolic or to imply that Stanko and company are revisiting ground trod long ago. It is much more the spirit of the Davis group that is replicated by Stanko’s band, a sense that these guys eat, breathe, and sleep jazz 24/7 when they are in recording or performance mode. In addition, Stanko, like Davis, is clearly the elder in his band (he is around 60, his bandmates in their mid-thirties), yet draws inspiration from younger musicians even as he, in turn, inspires them.
The Tomasz Stanko Quartet pulls out all the stops on this CD, performing a wide variety of styles including the extreme downtempo of Variations IV, the Monkish post-bop of Variation V, the lush balladry of Variations III and VI, the somewhat free improvisation of Variation VII. Pianist Wasilewski occasionally employs unusual aspects of his instrument, such as plucking the strings and tapping the piano’s sides. What’s really important about this album is that it demands repeated listening. It is a richly textured tapestry that will always yield new insights and expose new colors and patterns. That seems as good a definition of the word “classic” as any.