Review: Stefano Bollani/Tomasz Stanko

Simon Adams enjoys the ECM double act of Stefano Bollani/Hamilton de Holanda and the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet at the EFG London Jazz Festival

It was ECM night at the Barbican on Thursday evening, a double and contrasting bill of the delightful duo of Stefano Bollani with Hamilton de Holanda alongside the brooding presence of Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet. First up were Italian pianist Bollani and Brazilian bandolim player de Holanda, whose live ECM set O Que Será was such a joyous outing last year. They proved that their live album was no fluke, turning in a lengthy set of equally uplifting music making. In Bollani’s full-tilt approach to the piano coupled with de Holanda’s insistent comping, there is something of the soundtrack to a Buster Keaton caper about their music, a manic, slightly deranged approach that is both highly entertaining and vaguely disturbing at the same time. Bollani (pictured) can make the piano sing with just one firm right hand, his theatrical gestures adding to the occasion, while de Holanda’s control of his diminutive 10-string mandolin is awe-inspiring in his effortless switches from accompaniment to soloing and back again. When Bollani launched into a Fats Waller-style stride and de Holanda answered with some romantic swishes of his strings, you just knew this was razor-sharp coordination at its finest. It might have been a bit samey in places, but for sheer grin-inducing pleasure, this set would take some beating.

With his much-loved quartet with the Marcin Wasilewski trio now in the past, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has turned his gaze across the Atlantic, hooking up with the Cuban pianist David Virelles and Americans Thomas Morgan on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums to form a New York Quartet. Their 2013 debut double album Wislawa is a brooding, sophisticated set of free ballads, distinguished by Stanko’s grainy trumpet and Virelles’s spacious piano. So it comes as a bit of (welcome) shock to hear the same quartet live. What was previously light is now much darker, the airy spaces of the recording replaced by an almost claustrophobic intensity. After a hesitant opening, Virelles sounded transformed, block-chording abstract patterns to support the arching, open themes of Stanko’s compositions. Drums and bass displayed a wonderful empathy, although I for one wanted to hear more of Morgan’s atmospheric bass lines. And up front Stanko displayed a magisterial, calm poise, his open trumpet lines sure-footed but never predictable. This was music with a determined presence, conjuring up its own soundworld of, at times, foreboding and darkness but also displaying considerable humanity. Thus new quartet has a great deal of mileage in it to come.

Photo: Valentina Cenni

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