From the looks of eager anticipation in the packed Regattabar before veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s first set on April 20, 2010, one might have been tempted to conclude that European jazz had finally “arrived” in the United States. Ironically enough, it must have been something of an empty victory for the Europeans. Their American audience seemed swayed less by any intricate musical and social relationships that played out on the bandstand than by the pendulum of transatlantic hype which has currently swung in Europe’s favor. Watching the blithe reactions to the group conjuring jazz atmosphere after atmosphere got me wondering whether those war-weary European audiences who eagerly embraced everything American in the 40s and 50s had anything in common with this American audience, which seemed only to appreciate the European group in proportion to its ability to transport one away from America’s relatively depressing here-and-now.
…and it is probably wise to end audience comparisons there. Americans are, after all, notoriously myopic, gifted with little of the worldiness that has long made Europeans some of the savviest jazz consumers on the planet. Was anyone in the Regattabar aware of Stanko’s formative experiences hearing Willis Connover’s “Voice of America” jazz broadcasts in communist Poland? His politicized free-jazz roots? His work with Alexander von Schlippenbach’s seminal Globe Unity Orchestra? Or with Cecil Taylor’s Big Band on Berlin’s FMP label? Had anyone heard the clear echoes of Polish countryman Kryzsztof Komeda’s legendary album Astigmatic (1966) in Stanko’s melodic and programming choices? Or of Edward Vesala, the iconic Finnish drummer whose influence would prepare the way for Stanko’s own mentorship of Alexi Tuomarila, the young Finnish piano phenom who that night played circles around everyone on the bandstand?
In a word, no.
What they did know was likely gleaned from listening to Stanko’s recent, relatively well-received and well-publicized ECM albums, or by reading recent American press releases, Down Beat polls and critical plaudits for Stanko — which have not been hard to come by. In 2002, The New Yorker was hailing him as “one of the world’s most original and inventive jazz trumpeters … known for deeply expressive horn work, parcelled out in judicious amounts of long held notes and darting phrasing.” In 2009, Dusted Reviews hit par for the course in proclaiming the quintet’s album Dark Eyes “beautifully simple and simply beautiful.” By the time of the concert in April of 2010, the Americans may not have known much about Stanko, but they at least knew this: that although he would be unlikely to bowl anyone over with the trumpet, he was very likely to divulge some of Europe’s coveted jazz beauty secrets.
Did the group deliver the goods? Stay tuned for audience reactions in part II.