Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet – London Jazz Festival 2014

Barbican Centre, London. Thursday 20th November 2014

Thursday’s Tomasz Stanko concert presents quite a challenge to review. No tracks were introduced though most were from the ‘Wislawa’ album with the New York Quartet. The music is frequently impressionistic, dense, free and constantly shifting.

The medium swing of ‘Assassins’ served as the uncompromising starting point for a challenging evening’s music requiring some serious concentration. Much was asked of the audience to stay with this, but the rewards were well worth it. Almost every piece seemed to contain many sub pieces, often with quite different harmony and rhythm. Asides of asides were pursued relentlessly resulting in a sometimes uncomfortable de-centering effect.

‘Dernier Cri’ supplied some contrast, the wistful and dreamy introduction from pianist David Virelles conveying a mood perfectly echoed by Stanko’s melancholy trumpet. The piece managed to capture a romanticism tinged with sadness and longing. The track eventually moved on up into a swing, Virelles keeping us on our toes with some angular side shot arpeggio flourishes.

Especially effective was the insistence of ‘Faces’, drummer Gerald Cleaver sounding gorgeously fluid, keeping up a captivatingly intense rhythmic layer for Stanko to shower his fast trumpet cluster splurges over. Bassist Thomas Morgan provided a clear backbone throughout, much in the vein of classic modal era Coltrane tracks. He frequently stuck to a one-note drone type layer, albeit presented within a complex rhythmic figure. The playing was nothing showy on the face of it, but he was always driving things along with maximum effect. His later solo was really quite unusual, comprising a root to fifth movement shifting across tonalities.

It was clear this concert wasn’t to everyone’s taste, especially coming after high energy spectacle of opening act Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda. Nonetheless, it was the sort of concert that stays with you. It’s certainly left me intrigued to seek out and understand his music more. Music shouldn’t have to be difficult and of course, often isn’t. However sometimes when it is, it can push you into places you otherwise wouldn’t go. We don’t always find the journey easy, but it can be wonderful when you get there.

Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko
Pianist David Virelles
Bassist Thomas Morgan
Drummer Gerald Cleaver

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