ALBUM OF THE DECADE
I wish there were some way words could convey not only what a huge surprise this album was when it was released, but also how it has almost single-handedly re-defined and re-invigorated jazz in the 21st century. ECM Records has raised the stakes by placing a sticker on the shrink-wrap with a quote from The Guardian: "If everyone who owned Kind of Blue heard Stanko's new album, it would top the charts tomorrow." The point of comparison, while understandable, is a bit of a stretcher: Kind of Blue has two saxophonists, five titled tracks, and runs almost 25 minutes shorter. Still, for everyone who appreciates what has been described as "2AM jazz" (moody, atmospheric, unhurried, haunted), Suspended Night absolutely MUST be heard to be believed.
Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko returned to the ECM label in the early 1990s and released a few experimental albums that didn't attract much attention. Everyone took notice in 2002 with the release of Soul of Things, where he introduced his new quartet (Marcin Wasilewski, piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, double bass, Michal Miskiewicz, drums/cymbals) on 13 lively, adventurous but unnamed tracks. Much deeper and broader in scope, Suspended Night not only fulfills the potential indicated by the previous album, but also escapes into entirely new and different directions. Only very rarely does 69:07 pass so quickly, and every note is magic. If Soul of Things can be described as "uptown", Suspended Night is simply "timeless".
There's no point in describing all 11 tracks or discussing individual solos, as all four players are at the top of their game. There is, however, one absolutely definitive composition that should instantly erase any pre-existing misconceptions (such as "it's morose/slow/gloomy"). "Suspended Variation II" opens on the bass, before adding piano, trumpet, and drums. The unforgettable melody line is almost playful (yes, it swings!) and excitement builds with each solo and return to the opening theme before a memorable, sudden ending. If the world's few remaining jazz radio/satellite stations would only play this track, it would do far more to build interest than comparisons to Miles Davis. And so it goes throughout: Stanko shares so much of the spotlight with his young trio that he's almost a guest on his own album. Listen to the percussive intro and false ending of "Suspended Variation III", or the uptempo "Suspended Variation VIII" to hear his most fiery playing on the album. The imaginative "Suspended Variation V" introduces tension with a wildly angular bass line, while "Suspended Variation VII" is wholly improvised. The closing "Suspended Variation X" is obviously the resolute "last call of the evening" number, with awe-inspiring cymbals playing over a slow fade to black.
Suspended Night is one of those albums that many people will discover simply via word-of-mouth long after its release, and then wonder "Why didn't I know about this before now?" All ECM recordings are exquisitely produced, engineered, and mastered, but this one is truly special, exemplary in a very crowded field. 2004 was a stellar year for recorded jazz, but Suspended Night is the ne plus ultra and is an almost shoo-in candidate for album of the decade. There is no shortage of jazz featuring great playing/writing/atmospheres, but the Tomasz Stanko Quartet has now perfectly married all three together. This is one for the ages: no comparisons necessary!