Stanko's writing throughout is exquisite...
John Eyles 2002
With his last few ECM albums, Tomasz Stanko has been on a roll, consistently producing jazz of the very highest standard. Albums such as Leonia, Litania and From the Green Hill were recorded with a variable cast, including such well-known names as Bobo Stenson, Tony Oxley, John Surman and Terje Rypdal. Here, by contrast, Stanko has decided to feature the young Polish rhythm section with whom he has played since 1994 - Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums. The results are the equal of any of those earlier albums, maintaining their level of creativity and surpassing them in the beauty of the music.
Even now, after eight years experience with Stanko, the band members are still only in their mid-twenties, but they play together with an ease and understanding of each other that make age irrelevant. They know Stanko's music intimately (what Polish jazz musician doesn't?) and their understated playing provides a sympathetic setting for him.
Stanko's trumpet playing has long attracted comparisons with Miles Davis. If anything, those comparisons are more valid than ever here. A defining characteristic of Miles' music was his use of space and dramatic pauses; what he chose to leave out was more important than what he chose to put in, both in his own playing and in that of his bands. Exactly the same is true of this band's music; it has a beautiful simplicity and economy about it. When one isolates the contributions of individuals, they can sound sparse and overly impressionistic; when one listens to the totality, all the pieces fit together and it makes perfect sense, with the whole being far greater than the sum of the parts.
The album takes the form of an extended composition in thirteen separate parts ("variations"), the longest lasting only just over eight minutes. The pieces have a consistency of tempo, sound and mood that gives the album an overarching unity. To be fully appreciated, the album needs to be heard in its entirety (but if you need to sample one piece, try "Variation VII"). Stanko's writing throughout is exquisite - full of melody, soul and allusions to past work. Highly recommended.