Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Recorded November 2005 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
The change of direction on Lontano, the third release by Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his three young collaborators - Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass), and Michal Miskiewicz (drums) - is startling. Whereas Soul of Things (2002) and Suspended Night (2004) focused on Stanko's increasing sense of balladry and structurally harmonic, assonant atmospheres, Lontano showcases a band confident enough after playing for five years to find real space for free improvisation. Recorded in the south of France instead of Oslo, producer Manfred Eicher works his name magic and allows stillness and silence to play as much a role as the performers engaging one another musically. The opening title track is the first of three such excursions with the title "Lontano." Here, Wasilewski's piano opens the door and allows for the band to haltingly and carefully enter the tune, contributing economically until a groove eventually develops out of one of Stanko's balladic ideas. Ever so slowly the beat becomes circular and focused, the band vamps on it, gradually gaining in intensity until it threatens to fall apart. But it never does. Instead the band winds it way back down into silence. "Cyrhia" begins as a thoughtful, hesitant ballad, but once more finds its way out into the world, entering it as a near-modal blues. "Kattorna" was originally performed by the Krzysztof Komeda group on its influential - and groundbreaking - album Astigmatic in 1965. Its angularity has been rounded off, but its sense of adventure is retained and Stanko's own economical style on playing, and then playing around its lyric line, is impressive, as is Kurkiewicz's empathic bassline. The other two "Lontano" pieces, at the middle and near the end of the disc, represent a kind of improvisation that actually sings. The interplay between the trio members and Stanko is instinctive. It's not nearly so hesitant and ranges farther than on "Lontano I." Lyricism and melodic ideas are never sacrificed in this kind of improvisation, but the playing is so free it nearly leaves the realm of jazz altogether. This is outside playing with heart, tenderness, and quiet beauty in its marrow. The silences on "Lontano III," are so vast, it's as if the listener can enter and remain inside any one of them. Indeed, this is music as poetry itself, a pure language at once crystalline and dreamy. The set closes with "Tale," a piece Stanko recorded on his ECM debut in 1975. This version reflects restraint in its more euphoric spaces. The idea of story comes from the slowly unfolding piano chords of Wasilewski, who urges the trumpeter on to solo until the end, not so much of the piece, but until the story is complete. Lontano is at once the distillation of 40 years of European vanguard jazz history, and at once the key in the door of the lock where it enters the world not as a music categorized by its instrumentation or personnel, but as music itself; where harmonics, space, and the improvisational language expressed in it transcends genre and classification. This band is simply astonishing, and Lontano is their most adventurous and cohesive recording yet.
All Music Guide
The third ECM album by Tomasz Stanko's popular all-Polish group rings some changes. Where its predecessors, 2001's "Soul of Things" and 2004's "Suspended Night" were recorded in Oslo, "Lontano" shifts the recording locale to the South of France - Studios La Buissonne, near Avignon - and it opens up the group's concept to admit both freer playing and a new look at pieces of historical importance in Stanko's development, while also emphasising the achingly soulful balladry that has increasingly become a hallmark of Stanko's music...
The group arrived in the studio directly from an extensive tour of the Far East - with debut performances by the quartet in Japan, Korea and Australia - which Stanko suggests may have been a factor influencing the departures on "Lontano". "Just the experience of being on the road, playing to very different audiences helps me to change, personally. I wasn't expecting record number three with this group to be as different as it is - but then it's almost a policy not to have expectations. As an improviser I want to be open to the whole atmosphere."
"I like very much (producer) Manfred Eicher's way of working, where he is always helping to create a direction we can use. We are always open to his input. And I really enjoy the free feeling we found on 'Lontano' and the communication between the players. It seems 'new' and at the same time it has everything to do with my roots and where I started in jazz. Maybe it sounds paradoxical but I believe it is easier to play freely and with focus in the studio than in the live situation. Firstly because of the clarity of the acoustics; you are in a better position to have control over both your own sound and the ensemble sound..."
In La Buissonne, the energy that the group had built up in live performance was re-channelled to make the fullest use of the potential for interplay. Of the material that Stanko brought to the session, only "Kattorna" was retained, a piece the trumpeter had played with Krzysztof Komeda's group and recorded on the influential "Astigmatic" in 1965. Thirty years later, in '95, Stanko's young associates Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz, had revived the tune on their own pre-ECM Komeda tribute recording: it was a piece with which all participants were very familiar. Stanko, scattering sprays of notes, and aided by Marcin Wasilewski's jabbing piano, guides it in fresh directions.
The closing piece, "Tale", first appeared on "Balladyna", Tomasz Stanko's 1975 ECM debut, but is revived and transformed here at producer Eicher's suggestion to round off the programme: Again, Wasilewski plays an important role, his thoughtful chording setting up Stanko's soliloquy.
Elsewhere on the record the emphasis is all dialogue and interaction. The extended pieces "Lontano I", "Lontano II" and "Lontano III" in particular indicate how much the quartet has grown in the five years since "Soul of Things", as they create new music in the moment, together: all four musicians in accord, at a high level.
Stanko's biography is a distinguished one, with many highlights and clearly defined 'periods'. It is evident however that he has gained new energy and momentum from his association with Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz. In helping each of them to find their individual voices, he has strengthened his own.
In 2002, in the wake of "Soul of Things", Stanko won the first European Jazz Prize, a major new award initiated by the Austrian Government and the City of Vienna. From the jury's citation: "Stanko has developed a unique sound and personal music that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably his own... A world-class player, a stylist, a charismatic performer and original composer, his music now assuming simplicity of form and mellowness that comes with years of work, exploration and experience. Tomasz Stanko - a true master and leader of European jazz."
In 2005 Stanko's "Suspended Night" won the Australian Bell Award as Best Jazz Album of the Year. In the same year, Stanko placed in six categories in the Downbeat Critics Poll - a significant achievement for a European musician.
The group continues to tour widely, and will be supporting the release of "Lontano" with a 20-date coast-to-coast North American tour in October.