From the Green Hill is Tomasz Stanko's ECM follow-up to the deservedly acclaimed Litania - The Music of Kryzsztof Komeda. The Polish composer and trumpeter (and former Komeda sideman) teams up with countrywoman Michelle Makarski, ECM stalwarts saxophonist John Surman, bandoneon king Dino Saluzzi, drum god Jon Christensen, and bassist Anders Jormin. The set is comprised mainly of Stanko originals, but there are also compositions by Surman, and two by Komeda, including "Litania." This chamber jazz sextet draws heavily on European jazz influences naturally, but also from Eastern Europe's folk traditions. In this way, Komeda's influence is clearly felt throughout the recording, even on Surman's "Domino." But it is also fair to say that Stanko was there with Komeda at the beginning, and his devotion to the folk traditions of his region had an equally big impact on the late composer though both men were firmly committed to the jazz idiom as the only means of expression for their kind of music. Both men sought to identify the music their group played with their homeland and Eastern Europe. Interestingly, this notion brings out the international aspirations of each musician on the date. On "Litania," Saluzzi moves the interval enough to shift the melody to make it an Italian funeral song. With "Stone Ridge," that follows, Makarski opens Surman's piece with a wistful Hungarian lilt in her violin line, before Stanko's muted trumpet and Surman's bass clarinet wind around each other in a slower than slow counterpoint that brings in Saluzzi's bandoneon with the melody. It's an old modal-sounding piece, which is narrow in its dynamic range but rich in texture and nuance before it turns itself into a gypsy polka. Surman tries his hand at some Dave Tarras klezmer lines on the big clarinet, and the piece evolves again into a post-Miles jazz vamp. Christensen is without doubt the greatest drummer in ECM's regular stable -- yes, that includes Paul Motian. His style is one of the unobtrusive percussionists. He plays like crazy, elegantly weaving and sweeping through the band's changes and never once stutters or, as so many drummers are wont to do, draws any attention himself. His humility is truly remarkable for a percussionist of his caliber. On Stanko's "Love Theme From Farewell to Marie," a blues tune in A minor, Stanko plays with the rhythm section for a bit before Makarski weaves her way in a knot at a time, and Jormin creates a harmonic bond with her. When Saluzzi starts to fill out the changes, he shifts the architecture of the tune so that when Surman slips in, the tone and mode -- let alone the rhythm of these blues -- has become darker, deeper, and mellifluous in its timbral richness and harmonic elegance. Over 14 tunes, Tomasz Stanko reveals once again why he is a bandleader of great authority and integrity. This is an ensemble of powerful individuals and no less than three composers among them. Stanko's arrangements are carried out with equanimity and grace as well as precision and musicality. The result is an album that, while not as attention grabbing as Litania, is as musically inventive and challenging as its predecessor, and wholly more satisfying than most of what comes from Eastern Europe in the name of jazz at the end of the 20th century.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek