06 May 2008

A private visit

Tomasz Stanko returned to Canberra to perform for a large audience at the Playhouse last night. It was a great performance, and much enjoyed by those who managed to attend. But there’s a gloomier side to this story. There was an attempt to bring them here for a public performance, but it was skittled by lack of a reasonably low price venue for such a specialist art form. So the performance that the band made was a private one for invited guests of the Polish Embassy on one of their two national days. CJ gives great thanks to the Embassy for sponsoring the tour and the performance. It was a wonderful event. Sadly, I give thumbs down to our inability to host a public performance of such excellent players when they are available. It’s all the market these days, and here the market clearly failed. Let’s hope for appropriate available venues for future visitors. But now back to the concert.

I'd read that Tomasz Stanko was influenced by Ornette Coleman, so I was expecting a challenging free session. The first tune started tenderly, like horns heard over the Alps and soft mallet rolls, then on to a 6/8 time with a chromatic falling bass line, and a slow melodic overlay with a waterfall of piano notes. It continued as free: a complex of varying parts that could have been a medley, with snippets of melody and extended free playing. But the concert proceeded through various styles, with a standards-like chordal tune and a busy latin number, and finishing with an encore that my wife thought was film music, maybe the theme from the Godfather. I know that Tomasz has written film music; perhaps this was from one of his scores.

Overall, what I heard was a blissful melange of styles. I heard hints of Freddie Hubbard in the latin and lots of Miles in the freer, modal bits. There were some wonderfully complex interplays in trio and in quartet segments. I loved a busy bass playing free with a voluble trumpet and accompanying highlights from the drums. (I remember this interplay in early Chick Corea, and it was bliss to actually see it performed). Alternatively, the piano played impressionistic/expressionistic styles reminiscent of turn of the (20th-) century European fine music tradition: spots of exquisite beauty with the Steinway tinkling like waterfalls. The drums explored rather than set the rhythm with a muted, wooden tonality at a very controlled volume. All the players implied the beat, but perhaps the bass was the stalwart here, although he joyously bounced around the rhythm often enough. Over the top were frequent, extravagant flurries of long, sustained solo lines from Tomasz, often introduced by lucid, perhaps folkloric, melodies.

I constantly noticed Tomasz’s tone. There were visits to higher notes and fluency over the full range, but I most noticed the airy and humid tone in the lower registers which impressed me as distinctive. The sound was excellent all round. The recorded national anthems which preceded the concert suggested a very unbalanced (very bass heavy) PA EQ, but the concert itself sounded fine. I’ve mentioned the light, tinkling Steinway, and the wonderful drum tones, but the shortened travel bass (Dave Holland style) was also rich and full, and the overall tonal balance was very, very good. The Playhouse seems a competent venue for this music, at least from the front rows where I was sitting.

I’m always surprised when I hear these international experts. It was like this most recently with Dave Holland. You know what they are doing, and it’s the same as the capable locals and we everyday mortals are doing (sometimes using the same charts), but there’s a distinction of freedom, richness, complexity, fluency, aptness that makes them something apart. My other observation is obvious and common: this is European music and it’s different from American jazz. There’s a distinctly different, more cerebral, less hard style of jazz in Europe with connections to local folk and European fine music traditions. It was evident here as elsewhere. Interesting, and all part of the international art form which is living jazz.

In summary, this was a wonderful concert. I loved it, and even Megan enjoyed parts of it. So thanks again to the Polish Embassy and to the band. This was one for my jazz highlights history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Review - I felt like i was there! It captured the unexplainable bliss and freedom you feel when you experience great experimental jazz.