The Upshot: Equal parts improvisational whimsy and lush beauty, the album stakes out its own field in the land of contemporary jazz.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has been at the forefront of the European jazz scene since the ‘60s. A player and composer associated with free jazz and the avant-garde, in five decades Stańko has carved out his own fairly distinctive niche in the improvisation world. Working on December Avenue with his NYC-based quartet of bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Gerald Cleaver and rising star pianist David Virelles, Stańko unfolds a set of loosely constructed tunes designed to show off his sidemen as much as his own work.
Stańko sets up his pieces with wide open spaces, encouraging the listener to follow the sky down to the horizon. “Bright Moon” and “Blue Cloud” flow like rivers, shifting with the landscape but keeping to their paths. This allows Virelles, Cleaver and Rogers to follow their own muses without formal structure, Virelles comping the chords as he hears them and Rogers providing compelling solos as often as rhythm support. Stańko injects the spirit of free jazz more than the mechanics – no frenetic chaos or burning solos here. Instead, the group injects noirish atmosphere into sedate but improv-heavy numbers like “The Street of Crocodiles” and “Ballad for Bruno Schulz.” The swing of “Burning Hot,” “Yankeils Lid” and the title number add a more accessible side to the record, while still keeping to the spirit of musicianly freedom.
Stańko’s stark tone, avoiding both mute and blare, grounds the performances with clear-eyed purpose. Equal parts improvisational whimsy and lush beauty, December Avenue stakes out its own field in the land of contemporary jazz.
DOWNLOAD: “Burning Hot,” “Blue Cloud,” “The Street of Crocodiles”