[Dixielandjazz] A Jazz Philosophy

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Oct 25 06:56:13 PDT 2006

Perhaps not OKOM, but still interesting as jazz philosophy. Do any European
list mates have comments about Mr. Stanko? One thing I note from the article
is the boost he gets from the Polish Government via the consul general's
remark: ³He is one of the greatest figures of Polish culture.²

Steve Barbone

Trumpeting Freedom, in Spirit, Thought and Jazz

NY TIMES - By Nate Chinen - October 25, 2006

For the trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, one of the most acclaimed improvising
musicians in Europe, the significance of jazz was unmistakable the first
time he heard it more than 50 years ago.

³The message was freedom,² he said one afternoon last week in a Midtown
Manhattan hotel room. ³For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist
country,² he continued in his slightly broken English, ³jazz was synonym of
Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.²

Speaking in a rapid-fire cadence, checkered-framed glasses accenting his
oval face, the 64-year-old Mr. Stanko resembled a weathered but ageless
hipster, which in some ways he is. As a young blood, he led one of the first
European bands inspired by the free jazz of Ornette Coleman. His solo career
was essentially an underground affair until about a decade ago, when a new
batch of exquisitely lyrical albums for the German label ECM sparked a surge
in recognition at home in Europe and in the United States.

Mr. Stanko, who lives in Warsaw, was in New York between stops on a 12-city
tour, his fourth cross-country American trek in five years. (Its last leg
starts tonight at Birdland.) He was expected shortly at a reception
organized by the Polish Consulate, across from his hotel; he would play
solo, then with classical musicians on a chamber composition.

³He is one of the greatest figures of Polish culture,² the consul general,
Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, would later proclaim, adding that he had first heard
Mr. Stanko as a student in Krakow in the 1960¹s.

Like most Eastern Europeans of his generation, Mr. Stanko encountered jazz
through Voice of America broadcasts and State Department tours; the music
registered as a soundtrack of freedom partly because it was packaged that
way by the United States government. Mr. Stanko recalled seeing Dave Brubeck
in a 1958 tour.

In a 1958 interview in Down Beat magazine cited by the historian Penny M.
Von Eschen in her book ³Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play
the Cold War² (Harvard University Press), Mr. Brubeck described that tour:
³Whenever there was a dictatorship in Europe, jazz was outlawed,² he said.
³And whenever freedom returned to those countries, the playing of jazz
inevitably accompanied it.² In Poland, he added, the word freedom ³was in
the mouths of everybody we had anything to do with.²

Mr. Stanko said he still remembered that sort of yearning, which could be
said to exist, on a subconscious level, even on ³Lontano,² his latest album.
It is his third consecutive release featuring the pianist Marcin Wasilewski,
the bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and the drummer Michal Miskiewicz, who were
working as a trio when Mr. Stanko discovered them as teenagers in the early
1990¹s. (Last year they released an album of their own, called ³Trio,² that
underscored their deep rapport.)

Like the two albums before it, ³Lontano² is a haunting, suitelike effort,
with Mr. Stanko¹s trumpet as the running thread. But it is more restless
than its predecessors; often it assumes an avant-garde elasticity evocative
of Mr. Stanko¹s earlier, freedom-seeking recordings. For this he credits the
creative tension provided by his producer, Manfred Eicher, the founder of
ECM, along with the imagination of Mr. Wasilewski and his colleagues, who
learned the art of free improvisation on the job.

³It¹s true that I come back to the past, to improvised music,² Mr. Stanko
said. ³But exactly my mood. This is what I really love in music, you know,
this kind of narration, like maybe what in literature Faulkner has.² As if
to illustrate the point, he made an indeterminate gesture: shoulders
scrunched, palms upturned, head tilted to the side. ³Also a similar mood all
the time, like in this early Antonioni movie.² (He was referring to ³Il
Grido,² from 1957.)

Mr. Stanko was feeling allusive, recalling some of the art that inspired him
around the same time that he first voraciously consumed the music of Mr.
Coleman, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Recalling the atmosphere rather than
the plot of that Antonioni film, Mr. Stanko said, ³It was always raining all
the time, and I remember this extremely great melancholy mood.²

He found a similar feeling elsewhere in Italian Neo-Realist cinema, which he
studied ‹ in addition to other contemporaneous films, and paintings by
Modigliani ‹ for their play of light and form. And during much of the 1960¹s
he worked closely with a Polish composer and pianist of equal cinematic
interests: Krzysztof Komeda, who had already begun scoring Roman Polanski¹s
movies. Ten years ago Mr. Stanko recorded an album of themes by Mr. Komeda,
who died in 1969.

³Kattorna,² the only nonoriginal piece on ³Lontano,² is a song Mr. Stanko
used to play in Mr. Komeda¹s band; it¹s the jauntiest track on the album and
has served as a set closer for Mr. Stanko¹s quartet on its current tour. The
musicians played it during their late show at the Regattabar, a jazz club in
Cambridge, Mass., a couple of nights after the Polish Consulate reception.

³We play this music different live,² Mr. Stanko had said in New York, and
the Regattabar set illustrated his point, conveying an energy more emphatic
but less experimental than on ³Lontano.² On the title track, originally a
collective improvisation, the band adopted an aggressive tone: Mr. Stanko¹s
solo was bright and rhythmically forward, and Mr. Wasilewski, whose
abstractions on the album can suggest Herbie Hancock or Keith Jarrett, opted
more for the crashing modal fury of McCoy Tyner.

What felt unaltered was the catalytic chemistry of the group, most evident
in a stretch of medium-tempo swing on one ballad and a sudden double-time
figure on another. Mr. Kurkiewicz and Mr. Miskiewicz locked into each tempo
with what seemed like effortless intuition, and Mr. Wasilewski fashioned a
series of boldly cresting improvisations.

The other constant was Mr. Stanko¹s trumpet voice, a brooding but
self-assured timbre occasionally suggestive of Miles Davis, but with its own
subtleties of tone and control. Its qualities brought to mind a statement
Mr. Stanko had made in his hotel room, after affirming his debt to American
jazz and his liberation from it.

³This is my way to follow roots: to get ideas, not sound,² he said. ³To get
ideas,² he reiterated, ³but in my way. In my language.²

Tomasz Stanko performs tonight through Saturday at Birdland, 315 West 44th
Street, Clinton; (212) 581-3080 or birdlandjazz.com.

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