Tomasz Stanko, now 70, has recorded with some first-rate bands, including his early ’90s unit with pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tony Oxley. But the eminent Polish trumpeter has never had a rhythm section that could give his music the lift, flexibility and soulful grounding he gets from pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver in his New York Quartet. Of course, he’s never required their brand of support before, having for much of his career devoted himself to moody, slow-moving, thickly atmospheric pieces.
What makes Wisława (pronounced vees-WAH-vah) striking is Stanko’s ability to push into a more assertive, wide-awake style, rhythmically as well as melodically, without sacrificing the dark-glowing, middle-of-the-night emotion for which he’s known. You need only listen to “Assassins,” with its freewheeling strokes and brisk, bursting bop melody, or Morgan’s steadily intensifying bass solo over Cleaver’s skittering strokes on the time-shifting “Dernier Cri,” to know how well Stanko has adjusted to life in the jazz capital of the world. (As a ballad specialist, he has always been under the sway of Miles Davis.)
A two-disc set, Wisława bears the name of the late Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. Her writings—ranging from philosophical and political commentary to playful observations on everything from divorce to Ella Fitzgerald—inspired several of the songs. Stanko, who improvised behind her at one memorable reading, plays off his firm, crumpled sound with tremulous effects and screech tones to embody some of those themes. Having opened a new chapter with his edgy, textured 2009 album, Dark Eyes, he writes an even more entrancing story with Wisława.