Mar 22

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet – Wislawa (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 1:39:28 minutes | 1,78 GB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | Digital Booklet | © ECM

Like his early hero Miles Davis, acclaimed trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has a knack for shaping great bands, and this one, formed in the world’s jazz capital, overflows with promise. Thomas Morgan, Gerald Cleaver and David Virelles join Stanko for this breathtaking masterpiece. This must-have audiophile download is filled with brooding darkness and sophisticated ballads. In the uptempo pieces, all four players enter new territory with exciting results. The double-album program of Stanko compositions is inspired by the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska, the Nobel Laureate.

Since relocating to America from his native Europe, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has assembled a crack band to articulate his ever fluctuating, often experimental musical ideas. His New York Quartet, consisting of pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Gerald Cleaver is a study in contrasts. The septuagenarian trumpeter proves as wily as ever on Wisława, a double-disc titled for the late poet and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska, who passed away in 2012, and whose work and persona proved influential in composing the material for this set. Several of these pieces bear the titles of her poems. Stańko’s signature brooding, cranky, tone-altering phrasing and disconsolate spirit of tenderness are apparent throughout, but they don’t necessarily dictate the album’s flow. Two versions of the title track bookend the album and showcase those qualities in balladic form, as do others such as “April Song”; there is also plenty of fire here, evidenced by the aggressive interplay of the rhythm section on tracks such as “Assassins” and “Metafizyka.” “Mikrokosmos” is a Stańko showcase, offering at its opening all manner of squeals, skronks, sputters, and sharply angled tones before Virelles adds a Latin touch and the quartet settles into a groove. Likewise in the “Dernier “Cri,” where the spirit of Miles Davis’ second quintet is evoked. The second disc opens with “Oni,” led by Morgan’s bass walk. It commences impressionistically, yet develops into an easy grooving post-bop thanks to the bassist and Cleaver’s shimmering cymbal work. “Tutaj – Here” offers scintillating — though often subtle — interplay between Virelles and the trumpeter, while “Faces” presents the pianist’s forceful, canny, harmonic assertions that the rhythm section responds to with near glee. Stańko is at his most fiery in this driven post-bop number that also recalls the Davis quintet’s fearless sense of exploration. Throughout this set, Stańko leads this band as he has many others: by example. His democratic sensibilities allow his players to be fully themselves through his compositions, in turn adding depth and heft to them. Wisława deftly celebrates in a deliberate way, not only the memory of an honored person in Stańko’s life, but also the profound inspiration of her life’s work upon his own. –AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

1. Wisława 10:23
2. Assassins 07:49
3. Metafizyka 07:41
4. Dernier Cri 10:18
5. Mikrokosmos 08:23
6. Song for H 04:38
7. Oni 06:34
8. April Story 07:10
9. Tutaj – Here 08:33
10. Faces 08:07
11. A Shaggy Vandal 07:35
12. Wisława, Var. 13:12

Tomasz Stanko, trumpet
David Virelles, piano
Thomas Morgan, bass
Gerald Cleaver, drums

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Mar 22

The Swallow Quintet – Into The Woodwork (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/88,2 kHz | Time – 56:19 minutes | 1,07 GB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | Artwork: Digital Booklet | © XtraWATT

Praising a previous incarnation of Steve Swallow’s quintet, The Times described the band “as near a perfect display of small-group jazz – robust yet exquisitely poised”. The description holds true for the latest edition of the bassist’s quintet and its album Into the Woodwork. Swallow leads the group – including his longtime partner in music and life, Carla Bley, on organ – in multi-hued performances of a dozen original compositions from his pen. Recorded in the south of France, the album accommodates atmospheric grace and loping grooves, wry humour and understated virtuosity.

Over a career spanning more than half a century, Steve Swallow has consistently redefined the electric bass as a jazz instrument. More importantly, he has taken any and every opportunity along the way to deepen his craft as a composer. His self-discipline in this regard has made every album seem at once a culmination and a stepping stone into greater futures. Into The Woodwork is no exception.

For this latest incarnation of his quintet, Swallow has chosen a lineup worthy of the subtlety on which these 12 original tunes nourish themselves. The tenor of reedman Chris Cheek, who made a noticeable ECM appearance as part of the Paul Motian Band on Garden of Eden, brings the smoke before the fire in “From Whom It May Concern,” a ballad that tilts its own thematic mirror toward artful reflection. Cheek also plays beautifully in “Unnatural Causes,” from the paint-by-number simplicity of which he unpacks the robustness of an unexpected spectrum. This tune is further notable for the contributions of guitarist and fellow Motian associate Steve Cardenas, whose unforced geometries settle us into the album’s intimacies by way of “Sad Old Candle.” Cardenas, in fact, proves to be the quintet’s greatest converser, whether exchanging remarkable banter with Cheek (“The Butler Did It”) or playing in duet with Swallow (“Suitable For Framing”). His lyricism pairs well, too, with the organ of Carla Bley, whose own omnipresence reveals another defining mastery in tunes like “Never Know,” “Still There,” and “Grisly Business.” The latter’s gentle carnivalesque is ideally suited to her touch at the keys.

Drummer Jorge Rossy is a constant thread to which the band looks for guidance, but especially in the more energetic turns such as “Back In Action” and “Exit Stage Left.” His understated groove actualizes Swallow’s ethos of less as more, and demonstrates that self-assured music need never be arrogant. And then there’s Swallow himself, whose first true solo doesn’t come until the album’s ninth track, “Small Comfort” fans the embers. The edge of his new custom bass sounds already finely aged over this bed of organ and cymbals, exposing a little more of his inner workings as brushed snare and tenor pull back the curtain to clarity.
In contrast to the steadied pacing of Swallow’s ECM outings, many tunes on Into The Woodwork flow into the next without break, thus keeping his atmospheric integrity in constant check. Like the title track itself, the album as a whole finds balance between the grounded and the free, always keeping one arm around the listener’s shoulder. The fact that this music doesn’t overtly challenge is a challenge in and of itself to experience its strengths as givens. Like an old friend, it may not often surprise, but its comforts are exactly where they need to be.

01 – Sad Old Candle
02 – Into The Woodwork
03 – From Whom It May Concern (For Paul Haines)
04 – Back In Action
05 – Grisly Business
06 – Unnatural Causes
07 – The Butler Did It
08 – Suitable For Framing
09 – Small Comfort
10 – Still There
11 – Never Know
12 – Exit Stage Left

Produced by Steve Swallow. Engineered by Gérard De Haro and Nicolas Baillard.
Recorded on November 15/16, 2011 and Mixed and Mastered at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines.

Steve Swallow – bass
Chris Cheek – tenor saxophone
Steve Cardenas – guitar
Carla Bley – organ
Jorge Rossy – drums

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