Travelled over to the RNCM last night (alone, unfortunately – R was still feeling rotten) to see the new Tomasz Stanko Quintet. The band features two Finns – pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori – and two Danes, electric guitarist Jakob Bro and bassist Anders Christensen.
Now, I’ve enjoyed his albums – particularly Litania: The Music of Krzysztof Komeda from 1996, and its follow-up, From the Green Hill. But tonight I have to admit I was not engaged. Perhaps I was distracted by Stanko’s decidedly eccentric appearance – he was wearing what appeared to be high heeled boots with spats, drainpipe trousers and a loud check tweed jacket, all topped off with a black pork-pie hat.
But the rest of the audience seemed well-pleased with the short set (80 minutes, one encore) and applauded enthusiastically. This was the Manchester Evening News review of the concert:
Veteran Polish trumpeter Stanko is in the front rank of European jazz musicians but he has been a rare visitor to the UK. His current tour has therefore been eagerly awaited and this superlative performance fully justified the build-up. There were unmistakable touches of Miles Davis in his bittersweet lyricism and his open-ended ensemble sound had echoes of the American giant’s 1960s quintet. But Stanko demonstrated that he was very much his own man with a distinctive style combining short, stabbing phrases with stratospheric cadenzas.
His compositions, too, were full of unexpected twists and turns though it was the graceful ballad Song For Sarah that provided the most memorable melody. Stanko’s young accompanists are a successful trio in their own right but mesh seamlessly with the trumpeters methodology.
Pianist Marcin Wasilewski’s exquisite touch and unfailing inventiveness were highlighted in a series of dazzling solos. His bond with bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz allowed both to showcase their individual flair without disturbing the rhythmic balance.
Contemporary jazz does not get much better than this.
I was probably having an off night. Certainly clips on YouTube, from the Quintet’s new album, Dark Eyes, are atmospheric in a lyrical and melancholy sort of way,with delicate and sensitive contributions from band members.
Update, 17 November.
This was The Guardian review of the Stanko Quintet at the London Jazz Festival two nights ago:
Tomasz Stanko is the quintessential European jazz star in his pork-pie hat, snazzy suit and elevated shoes. With a radio mic on the bell of his trumpet, he’s free to stalk the stage of a captivated, sold-out QEH. He has a sure touch when it comes to recruiting young talent, too. His all-Polish quartet was one of the great success stories of the past decade, and he looks set to repeat that success with an even younger quintet.
Stanko’s music is always packed with good writing, including striking tunes such as Samba Nova and Grand Central, and beautiful pieces such as Dirge for Europe and Rosemary’s Baby (the encore). Yet his band is fearless: happy to blow freely, create spacious soundscapes or just stick to a groove when the moment is right. The whole palette of contemporary jazz is under their fingers.
Stanko’s open trumpet sound is very special: masculine, sensitive, spare, elegant – all the adjectives applied to Miles Davis come out of the drawer when he’s in town. It’s not so much that he sounds like Davis, but that he fills that Miles-shaped void.
And this video appeared on YouTube, filmed from on stage: