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Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Dazzle Nightclub, Denver
April 10, 2010, First Set
The ECM record label has been issuing innovative music since 1969. Although it has released over 1000 albums by now, most share an aesthetic that makes their sound instantly recognizable. While usually lumped into the jazz camp, most ECM artists don’t “swing” in the traditional jazz sense. However, the music is generally instrumental, improvisational and almost always, quite cerebral. A significant portion of ECM’s music is ethereal and often hypnotic. In fact, ECM records are banned in Oklahoma and Mississippi because of their proven narcotic effect.
Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko records on the ECM label and he fits right in. Like many ECM artists, Stanko hails from Europe; in his case Poland. Saturday night, Stanko brought his quintet to Dazzle for an evening of tasteful, intricate instrumental music that could sometimes qualify as jazz and sometimes not.
Much of Stanko’s music could be classified as a tone poem; arrhythmic with meandering melodies, sometimes played by several of the instruments at once. Often, this structure was used as an introduction to a piece that eventually gathered momentum, rhythm and a more formal, traditional structure. Two pieces in the middle of the set were based on a one chord, mesmerizing drone and acted as a vehicle for extended piano, guitar and, of course, trumpet solos. These trance-inducing songs were highlights of the set and inspired solos that evoked swirling cloud formations or flocks of birds. This was truly consciousness altering music. The remainder of the program consisted of music somewhat closer to what most people think of as jazz with a walking bass-line and something close to a swinging feel.
Stanko, 67, is not only the band leader and trumpet player, he composes the majority of the music for his quintet. As with many musicians, he lets his music and his playing speak for themselves. He only spoke to the audience twice; once at the end to introduce the band and the other at the beginning of the set when he said he dedicated that night’s concert to Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski who had died in a plane crash earlier that day.
Stanko is not stratospheric trumpeter in the mold of Maynard Ferguson or John Faddis, but rather stays most of the time in his instrument’s lower register. He’s not interested in a piercing sound, but rather something more dark and brooding. Occasionally, however, he broke the mood with double forte flurries of notes that were both surprising and delightful.
For the current tour, Stanko brings the same backing musicians as on his most recent ECM release, Dark Eyes. He calls them his “Nordic band” based on their heritage. They obviously share his interest in creating a mood as much as demonstrating their chops.
One of the more incongruous elements of the evening was the guitarist’s choice of instrument: a Fender Telecaster. Wait a minute, isn’t that the axe of choice of every rootin’ tootin’ Country & Western guitar slinger west of the Pecos? Yeah, as a matter of fact, it is (see below). It turns out that with a little reverb and a spacey backing band, the Telecaster can sound like it’s miles and miles from Texas. Guitarist Jakob Bro sounded like an early, and as it has turned out, stalwart ECM artist, guitarist John Abercrombie with a delicate, seemingly transparent tone which was an integral part of the sonic mood Stanko created throughout the evening.
Alexi Tuomarila on piano took several extended solos during the set and was particularly effective on the hypnotic one-chord pieces finding unendingly creative paths in and out of what could potentially be a limiting structure. Anders Christensen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums expertly shifted gears as necessary to provide the foundation for the shifting moods called for by the music. Although I enjoyed the droning pieces, I did feel a little sorry for Christensen on bass because he had to stay on just one note for extended periods, only occasionally jumping up or down an octave for a little variety. Louhivuori’s drums on these pieces, however, offered an exciting counterpoint, busily running all around these pieces for a subtle contrast to the drone of the main structure.