Jazz: Slav melancholy meets US free jazz
Friday 19 November 1999
LITANIA PROJECT SALLIS BENNEY THEATRE BRIGHTON
VETERAN POLISH trumpeter Tomasz Stanko achieved world-wide acclaim in 1997 with the release on ECM records of the award-winning Litania. A re-exploration of the music of the Sixties Polish jazz composer Krystof Komeda, who also wrote the soundtracks to many of Roman Polanski's earlier films, most memorably Rosemary's Baby, Litania showcased the trumpeter at the height of his powers, threading together Komeda's jazz and cinematic work.
Stanko was Komeda's closest musical collaborator until the composer's death in 1968, and has long been an influential figure in European free jazz. His wider recognition as one of the most distinctive trumpet voices was long overdue, but it is significant that it came about through revisiting the music of his mentor. And so it was appropriate that, despite having just released the excellent From The Green Hill, Stanko chose to perform music from Litania as part of ECM's 30th anniversary festival in Brighton, reuniting the same musicians from the recording (minus Terje Rypdal on guitar, and with Anders Kjellberg on drums standing in for the double- booked Jon Christensen).
In hipster flared denim and a fisherman's hat, Stanko looked as though he had just stepped out of a late-Sixties Greenwich Village, his dress sense betraying the other great influence on him: Ornette Coleman. East European melancholy meets exuberant American free jazz? Litania certainly embraces elements from both, and the first set was a marvellous integration of the free with the tonal. In a month that saw the death of Lester Bowie, it was refreshing to see the spirit of the Art Ensemble of Chicago alive at the Sallis Benney Theatre, especially on the momentous "Night-Time, Daytime Requiem", dedicated to John Coltrane. Like all the music on Litania, its composition is tightly controlled, yet the six musicians gave the impression of not really playing together. Bursting above it all was Stanko's trumpet, a mix of the rasping and the melodic, at times screeching into what many would consider "unacceptable sound".
Indeed, the force and volume of his playing was a surprise.There also seemed a degree of tension on stage, although the rhythm section of the underrated Bobo Stenson on piano, and Palle Danielsson on double-bass, was excellent. Perhaps the turbulent nature of the music demanded it. Or were they missing Jon Christensen? The second set dismissed any such thoughts. Stanko opened with just Stenson as accompaniment, and played the most exquisitely spare and searching harmonic solo. When the rest of the group joined them, they were visibly much more relaxed and performed an outstanding set which, although less free than the first, was all the more accomplished for it. Stenson and Danielsson, in particular, delivered fine solos. A case of less is more, and true to Komeda's tenet that Stanko has followed: "simplicity is vital".
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