Tomasz Stanko’s “September Night” — A Slightly Mysterious Lyricism

by Madonna

Tomasz Stanko, the renowned Polish-born trumpeter who passed away in 2018 at the age of 76, was often hailed as a master of the pregnant pause. Unlike many of his contemporaries focused on swing, Stanko’s brilliance lay in a different kind of dramatic expression. Known for his bold trumpet statements followed by deliberate pauses, even in the most avant-garde compositions, he maintained a serene composure, embracing his own enigmatic lyricism. His musical phrases, characterized by their paradoxical nature — direct yet elusive — reflected his unique artistic sensibility.

Initially gaining recognition as a sideman in Krzysztof Komeda’s quintet during the 1960s, notably on the celebrated album “Astigmatic,” Stanko later embarked on a distinguished career as a leader, beginning with his 1975 ECM debut “Balladyna,” featuring Dave Holland on bass.


“September Night,” a recently unearthed live recording from 2004, captures Stanko’s quartet in performance at Munich’s Muffathalle, part of a weeklong festival themed around the “Unforeseen.” Accompanied by pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and drummer Michal Miskiewicz, the quartet delivered a mesmerizing set to a notably quiet audience. The album features compositions previously recorded by Stanko, including “Euforila,” highlighted by Kurkiewicz’s intricate bass solo and dynamic interplay among the quartet members.


Another standout track, “Celina,” originally composed for the soundtrack of the Polish film “Mother Joan of the Angels,” showcases Stanko’s evocative trumpet work, blending nobility with moments of restrained intensity, juxtaposed against Wasilewski’s eloquent piano solos.


Opening with the bass-driven “Hermento’s Mood,” the album unfolds with a series of compositions where Stanko’s trumpet alternates between haunting melodies and spirited improvisations, often engaging in lively dialogues with Wasilewski’s piano.

Stanko’s approach to each piece, marked by a gradual build-up from introspective beginnings to fervent crescendos, underscores his penchant for creating music that is both contemplative and dynamically charged. His ability to navigate between these states with seamless precision defines his legacy as a jazz innovator.

Michael Ullman, a seasoned jazz critic and scholar, provides insightful commentary on Stanko’s compositions, reflecting on their thematic depth and the quartet’s virtuosity in interpreting them live.

ECM Records’ release of “September Night” serves as a testament to Tomasz Stanko’s enduring influence on contemporary jazz, reaffirming his status as a visionary whose musical legacy continues to resonate profoundly.

For over three decades, Michael Ullman has contributed a bimonthly jazz column to Fanfare Magazine and remains a respected figure in the realms of jazz and classical music criticism. His expertise in both fields enriches his analyses of Stanko’s work, offering readers a nuanced understanding of its significance.

Through meticulous storytelling and keen insight, Ullman captures the essence of Stanko’s musical journey, celebrating his contributions to the evolution of jazz and his enduring impact on audiences worldwide.


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