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The third ECM album by Tomasz Stanko’s popular all-Polish group rings some changes. Where its predecessors, 2001’s “Soul of Things” and 2004’s “Suspended Night” were recorded in Oslo, “Lontano” shifts the recording locale to the South of France – Studios La Buissonne, near Avignon – and it opens up the group’s concept to admit both freer playing and a new look at pieces of historical importance in Stanko’s development, while also emphasising the achingly soulful balladry that has increasingly become a hallmark of Stanko’s music...

The group arrived in the studio directly from an extensive tour of the Far East – with debut performances by the quartet in Japan, Korea and Australia – which Stanko suggests may have been a factor influencing the departures on “Lontano”. “Just the experience of being on the road, playing to very different audiences helps me to change, personally. I wasn’t expecting record number three with this group to be as different as it is – but then it’s almost a policy not to have expectations. As an improviser I want to be open to the whole atmosphere.”

“I like very much (producer) Manfred Eicher’s way of working, where he is always helping to create a direction we can use. We are always open to his input. And I really enjoy the free feeling we found on ‘Lontano’ and the communication between the players. It seems ‘new’ and at the same time it has everything to do with my roots and where I started in jazz. Maybe it sounds paradoxical but I believe it is easier to play freely and with focus in the studio than in the live situation. Firstly because of the clarity of the acoustics; you are in a better position to have control over both your own sound and the ensemble sound...”

In La Buissonne, the energy that the group had built up in live performance was re-channelled to make the fullest use of the potential for interplay. Of the material that Stanko brought to the session, only “Kattorna” was retained, a piece the trumpeter had played with Krzysztof Komeda’s group and recorded on the influential “Astigmatic” in 1965. Thirty years later, in ’95, Stanko’s young associates Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz, had revived the tune on their own pre-ECM Komeda tribute recording: it was a piece with which all participants were very familiar. Stanko, scattering sprays of notes, and aided by Marcin Wasilewski’s jabbing piano, guides it in fresh directions.

The closing piece, “Tale”, first appeared on “Balladyna”, Tomasz Stanko’s 1975 ECM debut, but is revived and transformed here at producer Eicher’s suggestion to round off the programme: Again, Wasilewski plays an important role, his thoughtful chording setting up Stanko’s soliloquy.

Elsewhere on the record the emphasis is all dialogue and interaction. The extended pieces “Lontano I”, “Lontano II” and “Lontano III” in particular indicate how much the quartet has grown in the five years since “Soul of Things”, as they create new music in the moment, together: all four musicians in accord, at a high level.

Stanko’s biography is a distinguished one, with many highlights and clearly defined ‘periods’. It is evident however that he has gained new energy and momentum from his association with Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz. In helping each of them to find their individual voices, he has strengthened his own.

In 2002, in the wake of “Soul of Things”, Stanko won the first European Jazz Prize, a major new award initiated by the Austrian Government and the City of Vienna. From the jury’s citation: “Stanko has developed a unique sound and personal music that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably his own... A world-class player, a stylist, a charismatic performer and original composer, his music now assuming simplicity of form and mellowness that comes with years of work, exploration and experience. Tomasz Stanko – a true master and leader of European jazz.”

In 2005 Stanko’s “Suspended Night” won the Australian Bell Award as Best Jazz Album of the Year. In the same year, Stanko placed in six categories in the Downbeat Critics Poll – a significant achievement for a European musician.

The group continues to tour widely, and will be supporting the release of “Lontano” with a 20-date coast-to-coast North American tour in October.