In its four year existence, this Polish-Swedish-British edition of the Tomasz StankoQuartet has established itself in the creative frontline of European jazz with itsexceptional and emotionally powerful music. After a spirited 1993 debut album onthe Polish Gowi label, Bosonossa And Other Ballads, the group made a quantum leap with the 1994 recording Matka Joanna- titled after Jerzy Kawalerowicz's classic film - which was Stanko's first leader-datefor ECM since 1975's Balladyna. "Matka Joanna demands concentration and attention from listeners," Gramophoneadmitted, adding "but both will be amply repaid." Jazz Journal's response was less equivocal: "Stanko's vibrant breadth of tone and poetic feelingfor cross-rhythmic drama remain, on this evidence, second to none."
Leosia marks a further progression, incorporating six first-rate Stanko compositions in hisbrooding "Slavic " style, darker than the darkest Miles - kind of black, let's say (and including a tribute to Lautréamont, the original Count of Darkness)- as well as bracing and exploratory duo and trio improvisations, and solos of thehighest calibre by all concerned. The group has an unusual claim on idiomatic completeness;it seems to summarize many of the important developments of jazz of the last 30 years,while resolutely ignoring other developments. Stanko, for instance, has resistedthe general drift toward reinterpretation of standards in the 1990s: "What to playafter Clifford Brown, man'" he says, drily. Stanko's "bent notes, slurs, smears, and violentfanfares" (to quote critic Stephen Graham in The Wire) are put to the service of a style that is all his own.
Stanko and Tony Oxley, innovators on their instruments, count as two of the pioneersof free playing in Europe. While Stanko, in Warsaw, was synthesizing the influenceof hard bop and Ornette Coleman's Atlantic recordings in his first band the JazzDarings circa 1963, Oxley, in Sheffield, was positing a radically ahead-of-its-time juxtapositionof jazz and contemporary music in a trio called Joseph Holbrooke (named for the eccentricEnglish composer) whose line-up was completed by Derek Bailey and Gavin Bryars. However, both trumpeter and drummer first came to wider attention via other channels.Stanko collaborated with film composer Krzysztof Komeda for six years, appearing,for example on the soundtracks of the early films of Roman Polanski and on Komeda's now legendary Astigmaticalbum. Oxley, for his part, became the house drummer at London's Ronnie Scott's Clubfor five years, in which capacity he played with many visiting Americans includingBill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz and Stan Getz. It as a result of such experiences that Oxley shares with Stanko the ability to move in and out of time playing andin and out of the The Tradition. The "out" credentials of both men include extensivework with Cecil Taylor. Stanko's has twice been a member of Taylor's orchestra whileOxley has been the pianist's first choice as small-group drummer since 1988.
In addition to the aforementioned Balladyna and Matka Joanna, Stanko's ECM credits include Edward Vesala's Satu (1976), and Gary Peacock's Albert Ayler tribute Voice From The Past-Paradigm (1981) on which the trumpeter was paired with Jan Garbarek to stunning effect. Oxley'sprevious appearances have been in a quartet with John Surman, Paul Bley and GaryPeacock: Adventure Playgroundand In The Evenings Out There(both recorded 1991).
Pianist Bobo Stenson, of course, has been an ECM musician almost from the beginningof the label's history, appearing in 1971 on Jan Garbarek's Sartand on his own trio album Underwear. Through the mid-70s he co-led the Garbarek-Stenson Quartet (Witchi-Tai-To, Dansere). In 1990, he joined the Charles Lloyd Quartet and has played on all of Lloyd's ECMrecordings: Fish Out Of Water, Notes From Big Sur, The Call, All My Relations and Canto. He worked closely with Don Cherry from the beginning of the trumpeter's Scandinavianresidency in the 60s through to his last studio date Dona Nostra(1993). Stenson continues to lead his own trio, whose ECM album Reflectionsrecently received two prizes - a Swedish "Grammy" and the Golden Record award ofSweden's Orkester Journalen (marking the first occasion any musician has collectedboth awards) Additionally, Bobo was placed first as pianist in the Jazz Jamboreepoll conducted by Sveriges Radio in December '96. All of which represents overdue public acknowledgementfor a player regarded as a "musicians' musician" for three decades. Throughout Leosia, Stenson's taste and touch are unimpeachable.
Bassist Anders Jormin, a close associate of Stenson's in numerous contexts includingassorted Lloyd, Cherry and Eje Thelin groups as well as the pianist's trio has alsoworked with players as diverse as Elvin Jones, Albert Mangelsdorff and Raoul Björkenheim, and has been one of the Swedish representatives of Jon Balke's pan-ScandinavianMagnetic North Orchestra (Further, 1993). He also teaches bass at the Gothenburg Collge in Stockholm and the SibeliusAcademy in Helsinki. Since his ECM debut with Lloyd in 1991, Jormin has grown rapidlyas a musician and his playing on Leosia has the gravitasone associates with the real bass heavyweights (in this regard see particularly hisexchanges with Oxley on the improvisation "Brace").
In September 1997, ECM will issue Litania, a CD entirely dedicated to the music of Krzysztof Komeda, in tribute to the Polishbandleader and composer who was Tomasz Stanko's mentor. It features Stanko and pianistStenson, together with saxophonists Bernt Rosengren and Joakim Milder, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen.