Tomasz Stańko Quintet
Church of the Holy Trinity - Toronto - Part of Toronto Jazz Festival
June 28th, 2010

Report by Tom Sekowski

I know there are naysayers when Tomasz Stańko's name comes up. Those among the hard-core jazz community have never really accepted his playing. His waffle sounds of stop-and-go, fluttering trumpet blasts have for the most part been given the cold shoulder. While outside of North America, he is seen as a semi-legend [being partially responsible for blowing people's minds back in the 60's through new methodologies he helped to bring about together with his then boss, pianist Krzysztof Komeda], here he is perceived as an outsider, who through fault of lapse marketing, infrequent touring, has fallen to the side of the mainstream. One has to remember Stańko as someone who was not only a seminal force in new European jazz - playing on Krzysztof Komeda's ground-breaking "Astigmatic" LP - but also as someone who championed improvised jazz tradition throughout the 70's and much of the 80's. In 1988, he was invited to play with Cecil Taylor's Berlin project alongside other seminal European players, while earlier on in the decade; he released "Witkacy - Peyotl" - an experimental record that centered on the life of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.

His rare appearances here [was this really his debut in Toronto?!] means this was only the first time I was able to catch him live. Church of the Holy Trinity was chosen to host this night and rightly so. The acoustics were fantastic. Every single sound made by Stańko and his quintet was highly audible [mind you, I was sitting in the first row, so I can't speak for those positioned farther from the front of the altar, where the impromptu stage was set up]. Bringing with him a Scandinavian quintet, the band was made up of pianist Alexi Tuomarila, guitarist Jakob Bro, along with bassist Anders Christensen and percussionist Olavi Louhivuori.

Let's get disappointments out of the way first. Christensen's electric bass was sadly under-amplified. Even those sitting in the first row had issues getting the full scope of his rhythm. He kept turning his amp up during the performance but sadly, nothing seemed to get the sound out of the speaker. [Perhaps a bulkier acoustic bass would've been a better option?] Too often, I caught Bro go off on a long tangent far away from the leader's inception of the composition. It's almost as if the listeners were treated to two separate variations of the same track - one that featured the leader, and another one with Bro taking charge. Finally, the biggest personal disappointment was Stańko's playing. This was not the same Stańko who raised hell on albums such as "Twet" or "Balladyna" or the rough interludes throughout his tenure with Krzysztof Komeda's ensembles. If he raised a ruckus on his instrument, the trumpet blasts would last for a minute or two, only to be replaced by silence, at which point, he would allow his band to take reign. This is sad as many of the pieces seemed to be devoid of excitement and allegorical beauty his music is usually saturated with.

In terms of positives, the band was coherent in its methods and full of lively dialogue. Tuomarila's key strokes were well timed with Louhivuori's cymbal-heavy percussive moves. Bro's innovative guitar riffs were full of vigour and brought a blues-soaked element to the music. Oftentimes, he would get himself into a conflicting duel between the leader, which is when the music took on a lively dimension. Tomasz Stańko at his best could still force bursting flutters of blasting motifs, but these were too often cut too short. Themes seemed to be left under-cooked, while the remainder of his band was allowed to rumble on and develop their own motif. Make no mistake; Stańko is still capable of emotive music. Cases in point were his interpretations of Komeda's "Dirge for Europe" and "Etiuda Baletowa No. 3". Though the quintet is full of quirk and in moments can exhibit muscle, Stańko seems to have aged gracefully. Unfortunately, in a live setting, much of his initial vigor has waned.

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>> Tomasz Stańko Quintet - Church of the Holy Trinity - Toronto - Part of Toronto Jazz Festival, June 28th, 2010
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