Haunting Soundtracks: Jazz with a Polish Accent


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The Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's records of the last six years, with their elegiac moods and clean, controlled lyricism, have become a primary reference point for current European jazz.

So it was curious to see him taking a step back into a woollier past on Monday in a performance at the Museum of Modern Art, part of the museum's Jazz Score series on jazz and film.

The tenor saxophonist Billy Harper sat in with Mr. Stanko's regular working quartet -- a first-time collaboration that worked out gracefully -- and the music became more jagged, more grooving and in many ways more American. But, in fact, it was all Polish.

In addition to pieces by Mr. Stanko, the group was performing music by the Polish film composer Krzysztof Komeda, who died in 1969, and with whom Mr. Stanko used to play. Mr. Komeda is still best known for the soundtracks he wrote for Roman Polanski films, including “Rosemary's Baby" and “Knife in the Water," but as a pianist and bandleader he was also the leading Polish jazz musician in the 1960s.

Mr. Komeda was an excellent composer. Like the works of Wayne Shorter and Billy Strayhorn, his jazz ballads were full of romantic unease, but they often didn't suggest a complete, scripted emotion. Their melodies are expressed in long notes and lines that sometimes seem to be missing a few important pieces or a resolution; they're mysterious and fragmentary, leaving you to guess the rest.

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