December Avenue, the latest ECM album from Polish trumpet visionary Tomasz Stanko, is receiving rave reviews with one commentator even daring to acclaim the 12-track album as Stanko’s Kind of Blue.
As soon as this reviewer read the Miles comparison, he has to confess that he got thinking about that. Granted, December Avenue has some of that air of disillusionment that makes Kind of Blue so tenderly appealing to thousands of people who might only own one jazz album. Yet Stanko is hiding deeper in the equatorial forest, he is in that dense undergrowth where you might get a stray atonal piano run to challenge you, in this case from David Virelles. You better be able to cope with this, there are no such surprises on Kind of Blue. Nevertheless, the Polish alchemist works a tender seam on the final track, Young Girl in Flower.
If anything, the music is more akin to Davis’s score for the Louis Malle film Lift to the Scaffold, being equally urban-fragmented, noirish, almost 1950s industrial-gritty, nightclub-salacious. Think about it, Kind of Blue conjures relatively pastoral, well-lit landscapes. Yet a track like Bright Moon might just pass on the Miles masterpiece, if someone tied its laces and straightened its tie.
Whatever about the Miles parallels, Stanko's latest is an album that encompasses generous acreage of jazz moodiness. It likes to stand back and give space to one player on his own, it leans a bit on the cerebral side, it tilts a bit to the sensual side, yet never so you would notice which in any unequivocal way.
There are richly ruminative tracks like The Street of Crocodiles, a tribute to the writer Bruno Schultz who was murdered by the Gestapo, and whose best known novel bears the same title. That meditative piece is followed by Yankies Lid, a rumbustiously airy, yet also supple exercise.
Settle back on your favourite settee with things like the opening track, Cloud, and ponder the great mystery which the Polish veteran is whittling away at, as though he were some kind of ice sculptor. On this deeply satisfying project, he is aided and abetted by guys who have uncanny empathy with the legendary trumpeter's schtick. These are Reuben Rogers on double bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and the aforementioned Virelles on piano. Recommended.