Review: Surman & Stanko, The Barbican




Michael Tucker reports on an ECM double bill featuring John Surman, "distinctly poetic, British and European", and Tomas Stanko, the "Polish exemplar of Slavic soul". Elements of New York and the blues were not, however, excluded

Advertised by the Barbican as a special double treat for ECM lovers, and augmented by a free, richly informative programme essay by John Fordham, this well-conceived two and a half hours of music kept a full and enthusiastic house happy throughout. The evening began with John Surman reprising, in part, the Turner Sims Hall launch concert he had given in Southampton in June last year for his Saltash Bells solo release.

As in the Southampton concert, Surman made discriminating use of various intricately detailed loops, as well as some digital delay, to enhance his already compelling sound and flowing melodic and rhythmic authority. Variously deployed, his recorder, soprano and baritone sax and bass clarinet mastery underlined the distinctly poetic British and European qualities of composition, tone and texture which he has long brought to jazz, especially evident in a piece which combined Norwegian and Northumbrian folk elements, or the tenderly phrased Not Love Perhaps from his mid-1980s Private City recording. After all such poetry, the core jazz credentials of a man who has worked in – and helped develop – more contexts than most were made fully evident in the concluding Hocus Pocus, a deliciously rumbustious blues given both tough and tender treatment throughout the whole (at times hyper-extended) range of the baritone.

The in-part New York-domiciled Tomasz Stanko (pictured) took the stage to thunderous applause, with new American colleagues David Virelles (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The audience’s expectations were met fully in a strongly atmospheric near hour-and-a-half set. The (as ever) sharply attired Polish exemplar of Slavic soul, who turned 70 last year but who is playing with the strength and conviction of a man half his age, explored various pieces, most often etched with the sort of minor-hued melodic wisdom that only comes with age, from the new release Wislawa made in June last year with what Stanko calls his New York quartet.

A typical Stanko mix of ad libitum ballads, extended in various ways, and driving post-bop energy combined ostinato attack and relaxed, triplet-based patterns to archetypal effect: the spirit of the late Krzysztof Komeda, Stanko’s  mentor and playing partner of yore, was often in the hall. Prowling patiently around the stage, the trilby-topped trumpeter (on open horn throughout) gave his fellow musicians plenty of space, which they exploited superbly, mixing cross-rhythmic tension and sublimated grooving to compelling effect. Baying demands for an encore were met graciously; one final, achingly lovely melody from the maestro wrapping up the kind of evening that remains vivid in the memory for many a month.

Photo by Andrzej Tyszko - ECM Records


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