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Tomasz Stanko Quintet - Dark Eyes

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Artist: Tomasz Stanko Quintet

Album: Dark Eyes

Label: ECM

Review date: Mar. 26, 2010

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has the enviable knack of making jazz sound economical and spacious. His music never suffers from the clutter or complexity that drives some listeners away from jazz because they feel they don’t understand it. Instead, its simple themes allow space for individual musicians’ sounds and ideas. Maybe Stanko learnt this from Miles Davis, whom he cites as a hero and an influence.

Remarkably, it was in the mid-’70s that Stanko made his ECM debut with Balladyna, almost putting him on a par with Jan Garbarek, Dave Holland or Keith Jarrett as a stalwart of the label. Ever since, the trumpeter has regularly refreshed the personnel of his group, bringing in exciting younger players. Despite his heritage, Stanko loves working with Scandinavian musicians almost as much as he does with Poles. After three strong releases with his long-standing Polish quartet, for Dark Eyes he has once again turned to Scandinavia, particularly Denmark and Finland.

Of the new recruits, pianist Alexi Tuomarita and guitarist Jakob Bro are particularly noteworthy. Both play an understated role throughout, contributing coloration to the group sound. In the absence of another horn player, they are also fine soloists alongside Stanko. Tuomarita’s fluid piano is dominant on several tracks, particularly “Grand Central,” while Bro’s solo grabs the attention on Krzysztof Komeda’s “Dirge for Europe.” Both shine on the impressionistic “May Sun,” which is extremely sparse even by Stanko’s standards, with the trumpeter notable by his absence.

But, as ever, Stanko’s trumpet dominates the album. His sound can often echo classic Miles, particularly in its use of atmospheric pauses. Stanko does have a full range of sounds at his disposal, as he amply demonstrates on the album’s highlight, “The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch,” where he unexpectedly unleashes a fluent hard-edged solo worthy of any bop master, a solo guaranteed to quicken the pulse rate. Immediately afterwards, a restrained guitar solo from Bro restores the trademark tranquillity; the 10-minute track is a triumph for the entire group.

In a nutshell, Dark Eyes is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

By John Eyles

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