Friday, October 27, 2006

Tomasz Stanko Plays the Music of Freedom—Live

Hearing Tomasz Stanko and quartet live at Birdland was worth staying out late on a school night. Stanko is one of Poland's best known jazz musicians, having captured a large American audience through his albums on ECM. For Eastern European jazz artists, the music had deep significance, as is clear in Nate Chinen’s New York Times feature:

“The message was freedom,” he said one afternoon last week in a Midtown Manhattan hotel room. “For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist country,” he continued in his slightly broken English, “jazz was synonym of Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.”

Stanko has mastered the sound of freedom, displaying a stylistic flexibility, having played fiery free jazz and cerebral suites that are as cool as the wind blowing through a Nordic fjord. As Chinen points out, Stanko’s Birdland sets are much more up-tempo and boppish than the moody lyricism of his recent CDs. The melodies from his most recent, Lontano, are beautiful, adapting into excellent vehicles for Stanko’s trumpet chops. His regular rhythm section is a tight working unit, producing exciting solos of their own, particularly Marcin Wasilewski in the piano chair.

Like so many musicians behind the Iron Curtain, Stanko’s initial exposure to jazz was on the Voice of America. During its Cold War heyday, the VOA was arguably one of the most effective government programs ever. Its programming continues to pay dividends, as evident from Stanko’s two sets I heard Wednesday night. He’s there through Saturday.