In one of the more unique groupings of musicians from the ECM stable, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko assembled his fellow countryman Tomasz Szukalski on tenor and soprano saxes, British bassist Dave Holland, and Finnish drummer/percussionist Edward Vesala to play contemporary jazz with a distinct Euro-classical chamber feel. Those who are familiar with the music of Kenny Wheeler will hear an immediate connection, as Stanko and this ensemble employ techniques of free-floating moods and lightly soaring sounds, with Holland's anchoring bass prodding the slight rhythms forward. The beauty of this concept is in how the quartet plays from an inward direction, with few direct jazz references save improvisation. It's also not an entire program of ballads or terpsichore, as the title suggests. "First Song" is an energetic spirit song with a Native American feel via Holland's insistent bass, with the outspoken horns forming unique sonic footprints. The slightly singsong motifs of "Num" and "Last Song" are the most reminiscent of Wheeler's distinctive style, the former an easier blues-based theme, the latter led by Vesala's solos similar to a rumbling Jack DeJohnette, leading to a tandem melody akin to a requiem. "Tale" and "Duet" are improvisations: a low-key, earth-tone concept featuring Vesala's shakers and Holland's bass alongside Stanko; and a short and serene feature for bass and trumpet only. The title track is a slightly whimsical but ultimately sad ballad with the two horns in mourning agreement, while the finale, "Nenaliina," is a showcase for Vesala's specialty, as splashed cymbals and resonant gongs lead to more free-flowing horn lines in no time, and then two duets, one between Szukalski and Holland and the other featuring Stanko with the drummer. This is Stanko's fifth recording as a leader, and as pleasant as it is to listen to all the way through, it is equally satisfying, and lies deep within the souls of these four adroit and accomplished musicians playing together as one.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos