The veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has long been a reliable and rewarding source for jazz of smoldering intensity. He’s a deeply lyrical, probing player whose investment in free jazz is real, but he’s consistently couched his most “out” explorations in a brooding elegance. Over the last decade or so he’s made a series of gorgeously meditative and quietly scalding albums for ECM with rhythm sections half his age. While he continues to keep a residence in Warsaw, for the last five years he’s also kept an apartment in New York, fostering relationships with younger American players. The magnificent double album Wislawa is the first fruit of those new collaborations. The album is named for the Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, with many of Stanko’s compositions inspired by specific writings.
He’s surrounded by a remarkable band — the inventive and highly original Cuban expat pianist David Virelles, the unassumingly flexible, sturdy bassist Thomas Morgan, and the great Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver — and while he clearly maintains his trademark sound, he wisely cedes his band plenty of leeway. In fact, it’s hard not to notice conceptual parallels to the great Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter; this band doesn’t sound much like that unit, but it does borrow from its pin-drop intuition, heightened interaction, and love of wide-open spaces. The surfaces aren’t always placid: On the mildly turbulent “Mikrokosmos” Stanko unleashes a solo of raw power, his burnished tone cracking with a burst of emotional volatility, while on “Faces” there’s a delicious tension between the trumpeter’s visceral, slashing lines and the blocky, subdued chords hammered out by Virelles. Despite the generational gap between Stanko, who’s 70, and the rest of his band (Morgan is 32 and Virelles is 29), there’s no artistic divide. On Wislawa, the quartet is seriously locked in, and the trumpeter sounds as hungry and fiery as he did four decades ago.