REVIEW: Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet, Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda at the Barbicam (2014 EFG LJF)

Tomasz Stanko

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet plus Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda

(Barbican. 21st November 2014, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Michael Underwood)

Straight to the point: the duo of pianist Stefano Bollani and Hamilton De Holanda (playing a 10-string mandolin) completely blew me away, and gave me one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had.

For an hour and a half they had the Barbican audience completely transfixed, showcasing astounding virtuosity and stunning duo playing all tied together with superb choice of repertoire and humorous episodes.

It was the optimum of duo playing. Their management of textures was so clever and the whole concert felt so open and improvised while at the same time so neat, crisp and rehearsed. Contrapuntal lines flourished from sporadic and seemingly improvised passages. Melodies on many tunes were so complex they sounded like linear extracts inspired by the most difficult classical concerto.

Bollani has such a wonderful touch and is able to make the piano sing, even during fast, semiquaver runs up and down the instrument. He reminded me so much of Thelonious Monk, always moving a part of his body, walking around, clapping, tapping the piano, whistling and cracking jokes. De Holanda, on the other hand, remained in situ, focused in the most relaxed way.

By contrast, I was rather disappointed by the set played by Tomasz Stanko and his New York Quartet. Maybe it was partly due to the incredible, joyous first half, however it seemed slightly lacklustre and disengaging.

With a short fragment of melody to start the set, Stanko set straight to improving with a thoughtfully restrained solo over dischordal comping from pianist David Virelles. A subdued bass from Thomas Morgan solo led into an building drum solo from Gerald Cleaver. After taking it to the limit of snare monotony, he finally released into some interesting rhythmic ideas.

The second tune of the set demonstrated Tomasz’ breathy yet sweet sound on a meandering cola voce tune. Virelles is clearly a world-class pianist and provided many interesting and highly detailed solos throughout the night, but maybe this music with a sometimes intangibe quality didn’t quite suit his playing.

Tomasz Stanko has done so much for European jazz, in the history of  which he has a  unique place. and he is a trumpeter with a unique tone and melodic voice. But at times even a great master can lose the audience, and that- is what seemed to be happening on Thursday.

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