What I’m Listening To

My Introduction to the European Jazz Scene

The Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Suspended Night

ECM Records


The story of jazz is a desperate struggle of birth and rebirth, of constantly trying to ride the “new,” of reinventing how we feel and relate to the world. Today’s innovators fuse genres, add instruments, at once rejecting the past and later resurrecting it. The jazz gods need constant infusions of blood to stay happy.

But sometimes, all they need is a change in geography.

I stumbled across Tomasz Stanko by chance. His style was different, but hard to put a finger on. His work on the trumpet echoes a lot of other players in the avant-garde jazz community, but manages to stand apart. He’s not pushing boundaries per se, but he’s definitely changing what we do with the ones we have. Listening to him play evokes all the same jazz imagery: the lonely streetcorner, the half-burnt cigarette, the ice cubes at the bottom of a glass. But it’s displaced from anything in the traditional jazz canon. Most jazz is intrinsically bound up in the American ideal — our politics, our cities, our architecture, our streets, our people. By contrast, the Tomasz Stanko Quartet — Polish all — creates new jazz by taking it to the Old World.

The effect is somber, urban, curious, nostalgic. While “Suspended Night” echoes a lot of what Don Cherry and others have touched upon in the past, Stanko manages to keep his sound angular without being adversarial. The effect is one of the mellowest, most thought-provoking albums I have heard in a while. It’s minimalist and spontaneous, both grungy and fluidly effervescent.

Not to be forgotten are his ensemble members Marcin Wasilewski (piano), bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz. I particularly liked Wasilewski, whose style, often compared to Bill Evans’, provides the core of much of the album.

I intend to pick up more of Stanko’s work, and also a lot of his lesser-known European contemporaries, also commonly found on the ECM label.