Leosia
ECM 1603
Tomasz Stanko

Recorded a decade ago in 1996 and released in 1997, Leosia is not only one of the high points of Tomasz Stanko's forty-year career, but one of the absolute gems in the ECM catalogue, twenty years removed from his first ECM recording, Balladyna.

The album itself is one of those things that just seems perfect from start to finish. "Morning Heavy Song," which first appeared on Bosonossa and other Ballads, opens the set and sets the tone. From Bobo Stenson's first introductory chords, the pathos, depth, and intensity are laid out leading to Stanko's immediately recognizable trumpet playing the beautiful, spacious melody. Stenson answers with a solo that is a crystallization of everything he is about, combined with a direct understanding of Stanko's music.

"Leosia," which ends the album and forms a counterweight to the massive opening tune, has the same melancholic darkness but which also has the same optimistic underpinning. While the latter's melodic structure is easily understood, "Leosia" at first sounds like it has a clear structure, but soon feels like it goes around in circles. Once again, Stenson's introduction is marvelous, and as the track progresses, he provides counterpoint to Stanko's almost mystical line. His solo is as free as the meter, and leads to remarkable solo by Anders Jormin that suspends time, and by the time Stanko returns, one is hypnotized.

In between, there are eight tracks, some with different configurations of the players. "Brace" is a duo for bass and percussion, "Trinity" is minus Stanko and "Forlorn Walk" is a cool track without Stenson. These serve as a link between "A Farewell To Maria," another gem of a ballad from the music for the Filip Zylber movie and "Hungry Howl," an atmospheric piece of almost terrifying intensity. Jormin is an extremely confident and powerful bass player, getting a huge sound, while Tony Oxley percussion adds another instrumental voice, getting many different sounds from his kit.

The cover of Leosia is a black and white etching of a bleak, empty road, possibly seen from a car in the dark through pouring rain, creating a feeling of enormous emptiness and isolation. Stanko's music most certainly projects this emotion, but there is also always an accompanying undertone of optimism. Truly representative of Stanko's art, Leosia is a magical album, about which enough cannot be said, so stopping here feels prudent.