RESURRECTION OR REVIVAL?
Technically speaking, the trumpet quartet never really went away, but with 2002's Soul of Things, Tomasz Stanko revitalized the medium and brought it to the front and center of public discussion. The first of three albums with this line-up (Stanko, trumpet, Marcin Wasilewski, piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass, Michal Miskiewisz, drums), Soul of Things is very "uptown": calm / sparse / measured / intimate. The liner notes inform us that this group has played together for a few years, and all the players do conduct themselves admirably. Yet there is also a slight "first album" self-consciousness and hesitancy to the proceedings. Which is NOT to say I don't like it. There's a reserved, understated beauty to Soul of Things that's not available anywhere else, even in the Stanko catalog.
There are no "songs": the 13 tracks are roman-numeralled "variations", but with very little (if any actual) cross-referencing between them. Most can be described as meditative, wistful, wayfaring, unhurried, deliberate. Beautiful variation II brings to mind snow-flurries sparkling in a street lamp's glow. The tempi are increased for the bright and bubbly III and X, while IV and XI are impassioned and anthemic, soundtrack material for an unmade film. VII is seemingly improvised, and XIII opens with a moving Stanko solo, before closing the album with a crystalline, transfigured coda.
Soul of Things never drags, but at 74:57, it does run a shade long. Were one given access to the entire sessions, deciding what to edit out couldn't have been easy. Stanko does add his grainy dissonances throughout the performances, and drummer Miskiewicz shines above his peers, receiving the most solo space (especially on VIII). This album's "buzz" was definitely justified, and those looking for the typical ECM melancholy are directed elsewhere. Soul of Things is essential and irreplaceable.