Tomasz Stanko began his career as an ECM recording artist with 1975’s Balladyna, a post-Ornette outburst that gives little hint of the kind of trumpeter he has become. Taken together, the best of his recent work—2006’s Lontano, 2004’s Suspended Night and 2002’s Soul of Things—represent some of the most evocative, atmospheric jazz this side of In a Silent Way. All three records were recorded with the Polish musician’s native quartet, which, as the Marcin Wasilewski Trio, has gone on to make excellent music of its own. No one would fault Stanko for making yet another record with this elegant ensemble, but it’s still good to hear him in a new setting.
On his latest album Dark Eyes, Stanko teams up with four musicians from Northern Europe: pianist Alexi Tuomarila, guitarist Jakob Bro, bassist Anders Christensen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori. Already this disc has scaled the top 10 of the Polish pop charts and it’s easy to understand why. For the Stanko novice, Dark Eyes has it all: the trumpeter’s crisp-yet-ethereal tone, his Eastern European melodic sensibility, and accompaniment that balances precision with languidness.
And yet, for those well acquainted with the Pole, there are surprises here as well. “The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch” makes an unexpected feint toward Balladyna territory. And “Terminal 7” is but one example of the prominence given to Bro, who recalls Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell with note-stretching impressionism. His playing, like the album as a whole, can be summed up by the title of the opening track: “So Nice.”