Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet ‘December Avenue’ (ECM) 4/5

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has made Manhattan his home since 2008 and rapidly established a new band. This, his twelfth album in total for the label, is recorded at La Buissonne studios and features new elements in the line-up with a lovely juxtaposition of styles. A strong and young Caribbean representation comes in the presence of Cuban pianist David Virelles and double bassist Reuben Rogers from the Virgin Islands. Jointly, they add a whole new dimension to the music, arguably the most identifiable presence since Bobo Stenson was in the band in the early 1990s, and Stańko clearly revels in their presence and youthful exuberance. Another youthful participant is drummer Gerald Cleaver is one of the hottest new talents and three members of the rhythm section contribute three originals, with the other nine composed solely by the leader.

The general tone is contemplative, and the reflective ballad, ‘Blue cloud’, is typical of the album as a whole. Some of the pieces are quite abstract in character, and this is exemplified on, ‘Conclusion’, a number that breaks down into a piano solo, before rebuilding itself as a quiet quartet piece. Stańko’s distinctive breathy tone is emphasized on the opener, ‘Cloud’, which is a wonderful calming and reposing way in which to start off the album. Cleaver displays a deft hand on percussion on the ballad, ‘The street of crocodiles’ and there is fine balladry work all round on, ‘Ballad for Bruno Schulz’.For a complete shift of tempo, ‘Burning hot’, has a more complex and even funkier tone to it with Stańko’s contribution having something of an early 1970s feel. The title track has a Monk-esque post-bop feel and is intended to convey the atmosphere of a busy Christmas period of anticipated preparation. Here trumpet and piano operate in tandem, Nothing revolutionary here, but long-time devotees will find much to admire nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse