The dark emotion that characterised the Polish trumpeter’s earlier ECM music—notably the superb brace of 1997 albums, Leosia and Litania, the latter exploring the music of composer Krzysztof Komeda—is also discernible in the sound of the current quartet, but here it’s enveloped by an inclusive, communal warmth.
Stanko’s old Polish quartet—which produced much music of exquisite subtlety, including the sublime Soul of Things in 2000, and their final album, Lontano, in 2005—now operates independently as the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. After parting company, Stanko made the most of his ECM connections to assemble a band of both Danish and Finnish provenance that explored a wider range of moods and textures on Dark Eyes (2010).
Over the past five years, Stanko, at 70, has, for the first time, been dividing his time between Warsaw and a second home in new York, and he assembled this New York quartet within that relatively short period of time. Of his new bandmates, drummer Gerald Cleaver is just two decades Stanko’s junior; David Virelles (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass) two decades younger still. Though neither Cleaver and Morgan are native New Yorkers, both were born in America; meanwhile Virelles was born in Santiago de Cuba. He was, he says: “inspired by ritual music as well as by Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill”; a very different set of coordinates than one imagines for Wasilewski.
Of course Stanko is no neophyte in the new world; he carries within him an intimate knowledge of its musical legacy as a complement to the inheritance of his own native culture. The material on Wisława was inspired by the poetry of Wisława Symborska, a Polish poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, who died in 2012. In a 2009 concert, Stanko responded to readings by Szymborska with live improvisations. He says: “Reading Wisława Szymborska’s words gave me many ideas and insights. Meeting her and interacting with her poetry gave impetus to this music.”
Occasionally, as on “Assassins”, this painterly quartet sparks with Bebopish vitality. It also explores impressionist abstraction with the bounds-free “Faces”. For the most part, however, it engages in characteristically soulful exchanges of rarefied lyricism. The long title track and its variant, bookending the album, offer the best summation of the quartet’s dynamic range.
Where the Wasilewski group operated according to the dynamics of a finely calibrated microclimate; Stanko’s New York Quartet operates more like a climate system. It seems ironic that a relocation to NYC should precipitate such expansive music.