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Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Suspended Night

The classical theme-and-variations form doesn’t really have an analog in jazz, because no one needs to tell jazz musicians to vary their approaches to the music they play the second time ’round. On Suspended Night, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko attempts a novel recasting of the classical form, bringing large-scale unity to jazz improv. The record consists of a sweetly sad “Song for Sarah” and 10 “Suspended Variations.” Each variation uses a different melodic or rhythmic fragment from “Song for Sarah” as a jumping-off point; Stanko and his quartet partners, Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums), then improvise in a boppish manner on those fragments.

When Suspended Night works, it’s due to the eloquent playing of Stanko and his fellow musicians, who previously recorded the well-received Soul of Things. Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz provide sensitive support throughout and occasionally propel the quartet forward. Wasilewski consistently displays a questing imagination in his interpretive choices, most notably with a mysterious, striking expansion of the opening chords of “Song for Sarah” on the tenth variation. And Stanko’s combination of a rough tone, controlled, eloquent phrasing and expressive line command attention whenever he plays.

These men make sure Suspended Night is full of lovely moments; however, many of these moments sound a lot like each other. Many of the variations find Stanko and company sticking too close to their source material; the second variation, a Latin workout, features an imaginatively derived melody that never really takes flight during the variation’s eight-minute length. And the rainy-day blue mood of the “Song for Sarah” dominates the record, with the result that departures like the eighth variation, with its inconclusive gestures and pregnant silences, ends up blending in with their less adventurous cousins. In other words, this is a set of variations that, despite some distinguished musicianship, fails to make much of an impression because of its lack of variation.

Originally Published