Jazz CD Reviews

Tomasz Stanko Quintet – Dark Eyes – ECM

Pay Close Attention

Published on March 13, 2010

Tomasz Stanko Quintet –  Dark Eyes – ECM

Tomasz Stanko Quintet –  Dark Eyes – ECM B0013957-02, 61:42 *****:

(Tomasz Stanko, trumpet; Alexi Tuomarila, piano; Jakob Bro, guitar; Anders Christensen, bass; Olavi Louhivuori, drums)

The opening seconds of ECM’s latest release from Tomasz Stanko command attention. It is clearly a moment that demands you sit up and listen closely, because a feeling so intense and profound could easily be broken by the slightest distraction. Dark Eyes is a special kind of album and emotional experience. It’s effect on the listener is ultimately inexplicable, for every person will relate to the album in a different way. Regret and a deep sadness permeate the album. It is the kind of sadness that is almost pleasurable because its sheer strength awakens a person to novel unexpected and unique feelings.

These amazing few moments belong to the album’s first track, So Nice. Piano player Alexi Toumarila beautifully begins the tune. Throughout the album the entire quintet, but especially Tuomarila, never sound as though they are improvising. The entire recording sounds orchestrated and planned, with each phrase purposeful and calculated to sustain the mood. Any misstep would break the song’s spell, but Tuomarila’s playing stays strictly in place.  For brief moments Stanko, Tuomarila and Jakob Bro on guitar play a phrase simultaneously to a gorgeous effect. Bro is rarely heard on the song, but when he comes in it is always at a moment of especially heightened emotion.

Terminal 7, the second track starts of tensely with Olavi Louhivouri on drums playing a suspenseful beat. Both Terminal 7 and the eighth track May Sun were written to accompany a play, and Stanko’s talents as a soundtrack composer are evident. At several points during the song, Stanko holds a single note while staggering his breath until it sputters, creating a sound so strong that it shocks the already nervous atmosphere of the track.

The title track, The Dark Eyes Of Martha Hirsch, which was inspired by a painting Stanko saw in a New York art gallery, begins with Stanko and Tuomarila both playing with their instruments muted.. The song barely moves above a whisper for over two minutes. Again, the listener is stopped cold by the song, which demands complete focus. The eerie melody seems to pivot and bend around the interaction of the piano and trumpet, until around the four and a half minute mark the song changes tone into an upbeat sound for the first time on the album.

Another stand out track on the album is Dirge For Europe, which was written by Krzysztof Komeda. Bass player Ander Christensen and Tuomarila set the slow stately pace for the dirge. Images of a funeral procession instantly appear in the listeners mind. Stanko provides a counterpoint to the slow march of the song with a soaring solo.

May Sun, the other soundtrack piece on the album, is also a brilliant composition. Bro and Tuomarila play a mesmerizing opening refrain which sounds more like New Age meditation music than anything else. The cyclical melody plays over and over until Bro comes in with special guitar pedal effects which create a slight time delay between the emergence of a note and its full impact on the listener. The entire band enters into a meditative mood on what is certainly the most unique track on the album.

Dark Eyes is an essential buy for any ECM or Stanko fan, but more importantly it is an essential listen. Take this critic’s advice and before putting this CD in drop everything else you’re doing, turn off the computer, and focus on the music.

TrackList: So Nice, Terminal 7, The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch, Grand Central, Amsterdam Avenue, Samba Nova, Dirge For Europe, May Sun, Last Song, Etiuda Baletowa No. 3

– Ethan Krow

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