Tomasz Stanko - Dark Eyes

Album review. As inventive, meditative, thoughtful jazz, 'Dark Eyes' is a great achievement and is easy to recommend


Release date: March 30th 2010

Availability: CD, MP3 Download

 Tomasz Stanko: Dark Eyes cover

Is European jazz finally beginning to get the recognition that it deserves?

The presentation to ECM founder Manfred Eicher of the DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award in April 2010 is testament to what the German label has achieved for European jazz in its over forty year history. Artists like trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, emerging from the unfashionable Polish jazz scene and working increasingly with little known Scandinavian musicians, have been supported and promoted by ECM, alongside a similarly specialist list of modern classical performers. On the evidence of 'Dark Eyes', European jazz is well placed to take its place on the international stage.

Tomasz Stanko, like Dave Douglas, Christian Scott and Alex Sipiagin, freely claims Miles Davis as an important, defining influence. There is nothing too limiting in this. Miles Davis was such a master of and innovator on the instrument that just about any jazz trumpet playing of today is set in his wake. But this is really no more than saying that Miles Davis himself began in the shadow of Clark Terry. Tomasz Stanko's playing has for some years been at the point where he is able to draw on that tradition and innovate in his own right.

The band on 'Dark Eyes' - Tomasz Stanko (trumpet), Alexi Tuomarila (piano), Jakob Bro (guitar), Anders Christensen (electric bass), Olavi Louhivuori (drums) - is relatively new. The trio led by Marcin Wasilewski, with whom Tomasz Stanko had performed since 1993, was now beginning a successful career of its own. Tomasz Stanko was drawn to consider Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila:

"Alexi's trio, also with Olavi Louhivuori on drums, was playing on the bill in Oslo when I was there with Bobo Stenson, already some years ago. I liked Alexi's melodic inventiveness and made a mental note for the future. And when I had some work in Warsaw which Marcin (Wasilewski) couldn't do, I invited him."

Added to the two musicians from Finland are two from Denmark - Jakob Bro and Anders Christensen. So, the band has a decidedly North European make up.

 Tomasz Stanko photograph
Tomasz Stanko (picture credit: Cezary Piwowarsky)

The album is fluent and flowing jazz arising out of the classical academy tradition, making up with intelligence, impressionism and imagination what is taken away by being so far removed from the blues heartbeat of jazz. Tomasz Stanko might sound like Miles but he has placed himself in a context that Miles Davis seldom inhabited.

The opener 'May Sun' (which features the quintet minus trumpet) and the later composition "Terminal 7" were written originally to accompany a drama by Swedish playwright Lars Norén in performances in Warsaw:

'In the studio, also in dialogue with Manfred (Eicher), we changed the direction of these tunes - getting more out of their atmospheric qualities'.

On 'Dirge for Europe' and 'Etiuda baletowa nr. 3', Tomasz Stanko features two compositions by pianist Krzysztof Komeda, a seminal influence of his:

'I think I played that ('Dirge For Europe') only once with Komeda, at the (1967) jazz-and-poetry recording session. And the ballet study I never played at all. That was from 1962, a year before I joined his band. It was Alexi (Tuomarila) who focused on that piece and really wanted to play it. I always like to return to Komeda, though. His music is very close to my heart, to my feelings.'

'Samba Nova' recalls a recent trip to Brazil by the quintet:

'I like the deeply mournful quality in some Brazilian music as well as the happy and celebratory things - this piece touches on both elements.'

Jakob Bro's guitar playing here, as throughout the album, is very appealing.

'Grand Central' and 'Amsterdam Avenue' bring in a feeling of the urgency of New York, where Tomasz Stanko now spends half his time.

The track from which the album title is taken, 'The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch', also has a New York connection. It is a musical reflection on the experience of seeing the Oskar Kokoschka painting 'Martha Hirsch (Dreaming Woman)' at the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue:

'Everything you experience gets into the music, but I've always been touched as much by art as by anything else in life. Fiction, poetry, film, the theatre. The visual arts especially. The way a painter uses paint, or the way he approaches form - distorting it to abstraction, or painting naturalistically or poetically... these aspects can be paralleled in my musical language, in the way I shape a melody line.'

'So Nice' and 'Last Song' are halting ballads in which Tomasz Stanko's trumpet technique and Alexi Tuomarila's fine piano playing really stand out. 'Last Song' is a reworking of a composition from Tomasz Stanko's first album for ECM, 'Balladyna', in 1975.

As inventive, meditative, thoughtful jazz, 'Dark Eyes' is a great achievement and is easy to recommend.

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