December Avenue

ECM 2532 CD 6025 5726302 2 RELEASE: MARCH 31ST 2017

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
December Avenue

Tomasz Stanko: trumpet
David Virelles: piano
Reuben Rogers: double bass
Gerald Cleaver: drums



The great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has long been one of the most distinctive musicians in all of jazz, his grainy tone and smeared notes instantly recognizable, his intensely lyrical improvisations and soulful themes as characteristic as the noirish atmospheres they often conjure. He’s also a player who gives a great deal of thought to context, and a generous bandleader who encourages his co-players to express themselves within his world of dark melody. US magazine JazzTimes noted recently: “He writes melodies that pierce the heart like needles, but does not exactly write songs. His pieces are open forms, a few strokes or gestures that introduce a mood and set Stanko into motion. He needs musicians around him who can respond with independent creativity to his unique stimuli.” Stanko’s New York Quartet is among his most exciting projects.

A decade ago, Stanko took an apartment in the city he still considers the jazz capital of the world, the stomping ground of all his early musical heroes including Monk, Miles, Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. His initial thought was that a New York retreat would be an ideal space to soak up inspiration and write new music, but it was not long before he was interacting with some of the most gifted and creative players on the scene. The first documentation of this activity was the double album Wisława, which introduced the first edition of Stanko’s New York Quartet. Released in 2013, it immediately netted much praise from the international press with The Guardian hailing it as “a dream-ticket jazz meeting between a cutting-edge European legend, and an equally honed triumvirate of pioneering New York-based musicians.”

Now December Avenue – recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the South of France in June 2016 and produced by Manfred Eicher – takes the story forward. There’s been one change in the line-up, and new bassist Reuben Rogers – originally from the Virgin Islands and perhaps best-known to ECM listeners for his work with Charles Lloyd (see Athens Concert, Rabo de Nube and Mirror) – proves to be a splendid addition to the team, establishing a profound understanding with Cuban-born pianist David Virelles and Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, and bringing a dancing buoyancy to the collective improvising. Rogers’ playing has, he says, internalized some of the lilting rhythms of the calypso music he heard as a child as well as the emotional fervour of gospel. An exceptionally well-rounded improviser, Reuben played clarinet, piano, drums and guitar before settling on the bass, and is well-placed both to drive the music forward and make cogent melodic contributions.

Pianist David Virelles, widely regarded as one of today’s most original pianists, exemplifies the melting-pot character of New York in sparkling solos that can cross reference Cuban rhythm with lessons learned from Muhal Richard Abrams, or allude to early influences including Andrew Hill and Bud Powell. Virelles has two ECM leader recordings already, Mbókò and Antenna, and a third is on the way. He is also member of Chris Potter’s new quartet and is featured on its new album The Dreamer Is The Dream, released in April 2017.

Gerald Cleaver, among the most resourceful of all contemporary drummers, first recorded for ECM 20 years ago, as a member of Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory. He has since appeared on albums for the label with Miroslav Vitous, Michael Formanek, Craig Taborn and, most recently, with Giovanni Guidi, Gianluca Petrella and Louis Sclavis on Ida Lupino. Cleaver is touring with Guidi, Petrella and Sclavis this Spring, as well as with Stanko.

December Avenue is Tomasz Stanko’s 12th album as a leader on ECM. The first of them Balladyna, recorded in 1975, established him as a major force in European jazz. His other discs for the label are Matka Joanna (recorded 1994), Leosia (1996), Litania – Music of Krzyszstof Komeda (1997), From The Green Hill (1998), Soul of Things (2001), Suspended Night (2003), Selected Recordings (2004), Lontano (2005), Dark Eyes (2009), and Wisława (2012). He can also be heard on Edward Vesala’s Satu (recorded 1976), Gary Peacock’s Voice from the Past – Paradigm (1981) and Manu Katché’s Neighbourhood (2004).

Stanko begins a European tour at the end of March, playing the music of December Avenue in Tromsø, Norway (March 30), Mo i Rana, Norway (March 31) Gateshead, United Kingdom (April 2), Rüsselsheim, Germany (April 3), Munich, Germany (April 4), Syke, Germany (April 5) Hamburg, Germany (April 6 and 7), Oslo, Norway (April 8), Voss, Norway (April 9), Helsinki, Finland (April 10), Poznan, Poland (April 11), Warsaw, Poland (April 12), and Stuttgart, Germany (April 16).

ECM 2532 CD 6025 5726302 2 Release: March 31st 2017

Portrait Foto: Jacek Poręba.

A UK reaction to December Avenue by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
Sometimes you know almost from the first note that something is going to be good. In this case, very good. Pianist David Virelles begins Cloud with a pungent, suitably murky chord, then walks a three-note arpeggio up to a rather more consonant chord, then another, and suddenly Tomasz Stanko’s trumpet is stating the theme. Like many a Stańko ballad, the tempo is so slow, and the notes so widely spaced, the music seems perpetually on the brink of collapse. This creates a subtle tension on which the musicians on ‘December Avenue’ thrive. Their playing is purposeful and empathic throughout, whether they’re tackling themes or taking solos. […] It’s a peculiar conceit to have a New York Quartet that’s led by a Pole and the members of whose ensemble hail from Cuba, the Virgin Islands, and, in the case of Gerald Cleaver, Detroit, Michigan. Well, that’s New York for you, perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the USA and arguably the world’s jazz capitol, drawing musicians from all corners of the Earth. But why quibble about a name when the music is as strong as it is on ‘December Avenue’.
Brian Marley, London Jazz News

December Avenue by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet is reviewed in US and French magazines

To say that ‘December Avenue’ is a ballads project is too simple. Stanko’s music is such a spontaneous process of discovery, such a dynamic response to tides of emotion, that it is always prone to sudden eruptions, his trumpet flaring across a night sky or scraping like sand. The album is mostly an inward enveloping atmosphere. Sound shadows loom within black silence.  Stanko’s compositions  are like sighs. […] ‘December Avenue’ reaches layers within modern consciousness where even Stanko has not been.
Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times

Aiguisés auprès de Matthew Shupp, Charles Lloyd et Chris Potter, le batteur Gerald Cleaver, le contrebassiste Reuben Rogers et le pianist David Virelles impriment la precision de lignes claires, personnelles et toujours sensibles, menant à cet accord parfait don’t le résultat marque un apogee dans l’histoire des formes libres sur fond de puissante emotion.
Guy Darol, Jazz Magazine

More international reactions to December Avenue by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet

The veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, who, like Monk, is from the less-is-more school of playing, returns with his New York Quartet (David Virelles outstanding on piano). The mood on ‘December Avenue’ is again wistful and ethereal, with Stanko’s tone elegantly mournful. […] just as these crepuscular chamber pieces seem to be drifting into abstraction, the rhythm section kicks in and swings through the Davis-ish title track. This would make very cool film music.
John Bungey, The Times

‘December Avenue’ is strikingly balanced and tastefully performed by this well synergized quartet.
Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz

With his latest disc December Avenue, the 74-year-old Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko reaffirms his special status as a supremely expressive and wily player who strikingly reconciles sweeping lyrical playing and bristling avant-gardism. The album, released last week, finds Stanko in the stimulating company of his so-called New York Quartet, which consists of three musicians who are between two and four decades the trumpeter’s junior — pianist David Virelles, 33, bassist Reuben Rogers, 42, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, 53. […] Although ballads dominate this album, as a whole it’s a kaleidoscopic display of music that pulses with creativity.
Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen

It’s good to see that Stańko’s keeping faith in exile with his Polish roots. The most inimitably his thing here is the poignant ‘The Street of Crocodiles’, in which he trades burnished licks with arco bass and inspires a supremely sensitive response from Virelles: it takes its title from Bruno Schulz’ book of short stories. ‘Yankiels Lid’, meanwhile, is named after a character of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, whose words he once set to music self-descriptively dubbed Freelectronics. ‘Young Girl in Flower’, this album’s serene, exquisitely balanced closing number, enfolds an unexpectedly rhapsodic turn by Virelles and Cleaver in elegant counterpoint to Stańko’s haunting melody. Like the album as a whole, it’s just about flawless – a superb encapsulation of Stańko’s seasonal renewal.
Tim Owen, Dalston Sound

UK and German reactions  to December Avenue, the brand new album by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet

A terrific successor to 2013’s ‘Wislawa’, this is just as exquisite an exercise in haunting tone-poetry, occasionally pierced by urgent avant-swing.
John Fordham, The Guardian

Nicht einfach nur die Musik eines Souveräns hört man, sondern glaubhaft tiefe Essenzen,  die nicht in simpel beschriftete Schubaden gepackt werden können. Das alles ist von überzeugender und wie mit Händen zu greifender Reife.  Ein Dutzend zumeist Eigenkompositionen ist versammelt,  wieder sind es lyrische Improvisationsvorlagen von spröder Schönheit, deren offene Melodik  weniger auskomponierte Songs vorgibt, als vielmehr Formen bereitstellt, damit die Beiträge dieser großartigen Improvisatoren sich zu etwas Größerem verbinden können.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung

Early reactions to December Avenue, the brand new album by the Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet

It just sends you. Listening to Tomasz Stańko has often been a spiritual experience. And this tops his best work once more. You just forget about everything. There is that elemental vision, a grand aestheticism grown from the wildness of the Polish avant garde and the inspiration of Komeda in what he does here that relishes simplicity, the moment, mood, time and silence. It is like looking at a painting by a great master, down to the ground or up to the sky and realising their fundamental perfection. Listening cleanses in all the fragility of breath into a brass instrument, human touch and group creativity. Give this music time and there is a filtering out of all the irrelevances and stupid distractions that detain us. This could not be further from amounting to a pretend lifestyle accessory that music somehow has been forced to become by the information age. Stańko’s ‘Kind of Blue’. Why not? It is certainly a new high water mark in a long career of unique achievement and marks a sense of place in the titling in the enabling freedom of a tree lined public space, the haze of history, humanity, memory, freedom, that ache of trumpet, Miles deeply embedded in an interior vision, blueness, it is all there suspended in the modal air within the musical persona of the Pole […]Stańko reclaims sadness and melancholy to make it somehow empowering and above all human. The beauty is in the quiet dignified reflection, the power he unleashes sometimes out of nowhere say on ‘Blue Cloud’ the third track where the planets best align overall. There is a collective will at work here that embraces individual vision. Everyone believes in what Stańko is playing it is pretty clear and runs with it by entering his world seemingly unwilling to leave as any listener will be, hearing ‘December Avenue’.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank

Die zwölf Stücke haben nicht die kalte Schönheit, die sich in der Musik seiner polnischen Gruppe findet. Vor allem Reuben Rogers spielt seinen Bass mit großer Lebendigkeit und so nah an Blues und Calypso, wie es diese abstrakte Musik eben zulässt. Stanko spielt seine Trompete, wie er es immer tut, mit seinem wunderbaren vibratolosen Ton, den langen melodischen Bögen.
Tobias Rapp, Literaturspiegel

Eine Musik stellenweise nicht ohne Pathos, aber ein Pathos des lapidaren Understatements. Achtung: Suchtpotenzial! Fragen Sie Ihren Arzt oder Apotheker.
Peter Rüedi, Weltwoche

Der Trompeter weiß um die Qualitäten seiner Mitstreiter, des hinreißend strukturierenden Pianisten David Virelles und des vertrackt groovenden Drummers Gerald Cleaver, und lässt die Leine so locker wie möglich […] Eines der ausdrucksstärksten Jazzalben seit Langem.
Reinhard Köchl, Jazzthing

December Avenue

ECM 2532 CD 6025 5726302 2 RELEASE: MARCH 31ST 2017

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet December Avenue


"Music it is a kind of dream." Beautiful video clip for a charity DREAM PROJECT.


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Tomasz Stańko "Polin" Music for Polin - Museum of The History of Polish Jews

Honorary prize 2014 from The German Record Critics’ Award Association

Tomasz Stanko received one of the tree honorary prizes 2014 given by the ‘Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik’ (PdSK), an independent association of more than 140 journalists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as it was announced on January 15th in Bonn. With the award the jury acknowledges Stanko’s lifelong work as Polands most important jazz ambassador [...]