Monday, 19 February 2018

Tomasz Stańko - Polin (2014)

Wisława, the double-album released by Tomasz Stańko's New York Quartet in February 2013, was justly lauded as a masterpiece, and will definitely be featured here at some point.  By contrast, just under two years later, this album completely flew under the radar - I think I only found out about Polin when it was added to discogs, and I never read a review anywhere.  Perhaps it was better known in Poland and around Europe, but for the most part, I suppose not having the clout of ECM behind it meant that this album wasn't internationally promoted.  Which is a shame, because I reckon it's wonderful.  So let's give it some love.

POLIN, the museum of the History of Polish Jews, was constructed on the site of the old Warsaw Ghetto from 2007-2012, and its main exhibition opened in October 2014.  At that time, the curators invited Stańko to write and perform a suite of music for the opening, which he did (see video below), recording it in the same month.  Retaining only pianist David Virelles from the NY Quartet, Stańko assembled another band of Americans with bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Kush Abadey, and 'Trane Jr on sax.  The museum released the album themselves shortly afterwards, without a regular record label.

And for that, it's an album that sounds superb - come to it blind and you could conceivably be listening to a regular ECM production.  It's an inspired band that Stańko's assembled here, with Virelles' lightness of touch carrying over perfectly from Wisława and the new rhythm section laying down a more swinging foundation right from opener Gela.  Ravi Coltrane is a great foil to Stańko here - it's nice to just hear the trumpeter play with another horn, after so many years of (admittedly gorgeous) quartet releases.

When the tempo picks up, as on Yankiel's Lid and the title track, Coltrane really starts to cook on his solos, with Stańko picking up the energy and sounding in top form himself.  But don't miss the loveliest ballad on this brief set, which is saved for the end.  The Street Of Crocodiles has one of those classic little understated Stańko melodies, and was also beautifully recast on his return to ECM last year (on December Avenue, where Yankiel's Lid was also re-recorded with a freshly rejigged NY Quartet).  Sure, ECM Stańko is great, but don't miss out on Polin.
Opening night concert at POLIN, Oct. 2014 - video should start at 1h3m for Stańko's set



  1. "Street Of Crocodiles" being a reference to the writer Bruno Schulz, another soul lost to the Nazi specter that never seems to stay dead. Thanks for bringing this important work to my ears.

  2. Can Stanko do wrong? I rather doubt it! Thanks for this.

    1. There is meant to be a couple of outright stinkers from what I've read, Chameleon and Tales For A Girl, 12 - still tempted to listen to them though, bet he probably still rises above the crappy backing. I thought I wasn't going to like that Montreux Concert (posted last year), but even with 80s keyboards everywhere the sound is just so weird that it becomes irresistible.