Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet – December Avenue (ECM)
It may not be completely fair to describe Tomasz Stanko as Poland’s answer to Miles Davis — for one thing, he dresses a bit more conservatively — but neither does the comparison stray far from the mark. Stanko’s trumpetry has much the same hooded diffidence of Davis’s most romantic recordings, and his confidence in letting the music breathe — in saying much without speaking loud — follows directly in Davis’ footsteps. But Stanko, like other Europeans who have distinguished themselves from American counterparts, uses such influences as the foundation for his own structures, which reflect not only the classical and folk musics of his heritage but also his onetime immersion in the European avant-garde.
Now 75, Stanko has sublimated all this to a measured, gorgeous approach marked by contemplative solos on even up-tempo compositions. Not that you’ll find many of those on December Avenue. “Ballad for Bruno Schulz” and “Young Girl In Flower” move with the energetic slowness of a tai chi exercise; “Bright Moon,” after a typically lambent piano introduction from David Virelles, brings the tempo to a crawl, challenging the listener to stop fidgeting and embrace it. In each case — especially the pulse-free center section of “Bright Moon,” where Gerald Cleaver uses his painterly drum-kit palette in quiet duet with Stanko — the trumpeter reminds us how much emotional power lies in discretion and restraint. And even on upbeat tracks, such as “Burning Hot” and the title song, he banks his fire, letting it peek through in flurrying sparks that trace back to Lester Bowie and Leo Smith.
December Avenue updates Stanko’s New York Quartet, which debuted on his 2013 double-disc Wislawa (bassist Reuben Rogers replaces the earlier album’s Thomas Morgan). Normally, you’d use the word “tight” to describe a band’s rapport, which also connotes a hard-bop sort of spit and polish. But here that rapport manifests itself in the loose connection that the musicians maintain to a more slippery but no less engaging aesthetic.