The New York Quartet to play the Barbican on 15 May
They’re into their second night at Birdland in New York tonight and now the Barbican in London has confirmed the UK debut of the Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet. To appear in a double bill with the Jazz FM-winning John Surman who appeared with Stańko as far back as late-1990s album From The Green Hill the concert will mark a new phase for Stańko in terms of his UK and broader European public. Stańko’s latest album, a double set called Wisława, is the first with an American band and the first double album of his career, also the first to be recorded in America. At 70 Stańko still connects with jazz at a deep level, almost on a level of suffering but also in the joy of his influences and the empathy of a great artist. Living in New York for large stretches of the year he is now able for the first extended period of his long career to commune with the history of the music there, but also the way it lives in city streets, the galleries, studios, and in the life of the musicians he plays with, and who he writes for. His New York quartet begins and ends with the abstractions of Generation X-er Gerald Cleaver who on Wisława plays brushes a great deal, every soft stroke like a footfall; and it’s Thomas Morgan in the slipstream to heighten the effect of this presence while David Virelles almost in an absurdist tradition waits to swoop because that’s his task, arpeggiating and making every chord inflection count. Wisława is mostly modal and the songs are sad but life affirming: think the best arthouse film you know and the music from Wisława would work beyond context.
Having performed with the late Wisława Szymborska he appreciated the poet’s simplicity and he is able to channel the laments at the heart of her poetry, again a benevolent but perceptive sort of despair at discovered ignorance rather than the unmasking of ghosts or the depiction of menace at the heart of, say, Zbigniew Herbert’s very different muse, or the horror ready to damn the world in Miłosz’s. Wisława has a simplicity in its 12 tunes, and ‘Metafizyka’ is the best piece of all. But every tune have a point even a little “bosanetta” such as ‘Oni’, an inverted dance. The first bars of Wisława amount not to a symphony but a song touched with love and sadness, or the melancholy Stańko speaks of, and that humanity that Birdland audiences this weekend and the London audience in May might well discover for themselves. Stephen Graham
Metaphysical approach: Thomas Morgan, Tomasz Stańko, David Virelles and Gerald Cleaver above