Jazz Tinged with Sorrow as Well as Somber Beauty

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Tomasz Stanko
Melancholia comes naturally to the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Over the last decade, especially, during a late-career renaissance--Mr. Stanko, a pioneering figure in European jazz, is now 67--he has distilled his art into a tersely controlled expression of sorrow. His dark-hued trumpet tone reveals itself in murmurs; he often begins a note with sibilant shooshes of air. He can make a straightforward melody feel confidential, guarded. His lyricism inhabits a haunting calm and produces a somber beauty.

So one question, going into his engagement at Birdland this week, was whether Mr. Stanko would address a recent tragedy: the plane crash that killed his countrys president and dozens of other prominent Polish officials. The answer came halfway through the first set on Tuesday night, in the form of an elegy called “April Tenth," after the date of the crash. Hymnlike at the outset, resting on a slow drift of chords, it soon unraveled into shapelessness, with Mr. Stanko briefly grasping at abstractions, unsupported by his band.

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