Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Soul of Things I-XIII

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Two new trumpet-led quartets from Europe take off from Miles’ modes and come up with a few meaningful silent ways of their own.

After track one (“The point”) of Erik Truffaz’s Mantis sidles in with electro-funky interstices that part like curtains for Manu Codjia’s screeching-sliding guitar, the second cut, “La Mémoire du Silence” (“The Memory of Silence”), flows from a core of pizzicato-bass stillness. In either setting, Truffaz projects a tonal heart of starkness, an existential lyricism that recalls the dearly departed Mr. Davis, while taking off on a musical journey of his own.

This includes two beautiful contributions by North African musicians that speak to the long-resonating exchange between Arab and French traditions. On “Nina Valeria,” Anouar Brahem on oud joins Truffaz in a duet full of sun-baked Mediterranean soul (what the Spanish call duende). And on “Magrouni,” Tunisian vocalist Mounir Troudi reprazents the Fertile Crescent with a fever-spiking cocktail of jazz and rai. Though the cumulative effect of Mantis is a bit like Tribute to Jack Johnson meets Sketches of Spain, Truffaz dips it all in a sauce of Gallic sensuality and restraint.

Polish jazz veteran Tomasz Stanko, on the other hand, takes us straight to the Miles of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) on Soul of Things. With a deeply personal brass tone (one that’s both a little battle-weary and wise) and a wistfulness that won’t quit, Stanko rarely leaves the dreamworld of cool in this series of introspective landscapes. But though the numbered sections are untitled, their melodies are as distinct (and somehow as familiar) as Gershwin tunes.

And rather than locking the set in sameness, the persistent atmosphere shows off the remarkable sensitivities of these four musicians (who, apart from the leader, are quite young): Stanko, trumpet; Marcin Wasilewski, piano; Slawomir Kurkiewicz, bass; and Michal Miskiewicz, drums.

Moving from sadness to fleeting joy to tender nostalgia to late-night reverie, then back through a kind of determination, Stanko draws out a whole new set of implications from the Miles canon — one far less hurried than the master himself ever tried. It’s lovely music that’s thoroughly aware of a far-from-lovely world.

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