Dark places can be foreboding, and also comforting or beautiful if put into proper context. Trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has always used introspection as a means for making his music, but on this recording he's all but snuffed out the candlelight, inspired by the wispy smoke that trails to the ceiling. During the 2000s he retained a regular working band of very young musicians, and for Dark Eyes he's formed a new band of promising up-and-coming players from Northern Europe, with instrumentation modified from the piano/bass/drums backup trio. The very subtle Danish guitarist Jakob Bro (from Paul Motian's band), multiple competition prize-winner Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila, Danish electric bass guitarist Anders Christensen (ex-Ravonettes and Motian), and drummer Olavi Louhivuori (also an accomplished pianist, violinist, and cellist) from Finland are all new names to the ECM family, playing with extraordinary reserve and even a bit of reticence. That subtle sense of territorial division between the band and Stanko marks a new, still toned-down chapter for the Polish trumpeter, beyond his previous suspended night-shaded productions. "So Nice" is certainly all that, a pristine, slow, piano-lined piece with a solemn viewpoint. Inspired by the expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka, "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" evokes strong amounts of sunken sadness in a unison piano/guitar/trumpet line, while "Last Song" exudes a finality within the same type of democratic instrumental structure. Departing from feelings of gloom, the ambience remains, replaced with more joy during the pretty three-minute piece "May Sun" sans Stanko with Tuomarila's repeat piano lines tumbling down the stairs, while "Terminal 7" and "Grand Central," with a pedal point base, both ruminate with the flowing and always active, upbeat but never anxious metropolitan feel Stanko experiences in his second home, New York City. Two compositions by Krzysztof Komeda are included: the pitch-black "Dirge for Europe," similar to a Miles Davis construct with Bro's guitar as a mirrored observer in the background, and "Etuida Baletowa #3," the most pleasant piece of the date, nicely drawn in an authentic jazz ballad form. As Stanko's music is very consistent, it also is for listeners who are used to his style at the outset. With the late-night aspect emphasized and the ECM precept fully realized, Dark Eyes represents yet another triumph for this extraordinary artist, who always pulls back and digs deep into the wellspring of emotion with every passing moment.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos