Saturday, December 3, 2011

Two from Samuel Blaser

Samuel Blaser Quartet, Boundless

Samuel Blaser – Trombone
Marc Ducret – Guitar
Banz Oester – Bass
Gerald Cleaver - Drums

Samuel Blaser, Consort in Motion
Kind of Blue

Samuel Blaser – Trombone 
Russ Lossing – Piano
Thomas Morgan – Bass 
Paul Motian - Drums

Trombone is not the first instrument to which I usually gravitate when I’m picking out something to listen to. Not that I have anything against it; I just find the saxophone or the piano, to cite two examples, to be more expressive in the right hands. But Samuel Blaser has changed my perspective. His Clean Feed release from 2009, Pieces of Old Sky, was one of the best I heard that year; Russell Summers of Nuscope Records, among others, agreed. Now he’s released two records in close succession that put him at the top of contemporary trombonists.

Boundless is a live recording culled from two separate 2010 concerts, although it presents as one seamless suite in four parts. The group covers an impressive amount of ground over the sixty-plus minutes of the disc, from impressionistic passages imbued with classical references to outright funk. Blaser has incredible technique and command of his instrument. Oester and Cleaver have the quick interaction, ability to turn on a dime and approach to rhythm that at some points calls to mind Haden and Blackwell, while other passages that shift in tempo and mood from rock toward sudden silence and space remind one of Foster, Henderson and Cosey circa Agartha.

Guitarist Ducret weaves in and around Blaser with commentary both lyrical and jagged. He proves to be a good partner for Blaser, although he steers dangerously close to fusion-y overkill in a couple of spots. That quibble aside, this is the best new hatOLOGY release I’ve heard in awhile.

Consort in Motion highlights Blaser’s classical influences in a more overt way, as he blends 17th century Baroque works from Italian composers Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Marini with jazz improvisation. This is not a work of pastiche, however, and it suffers from none of the stiffness that has at times marred Third Stream efforts in the past. His arrangements flow seamlessly, establishing the connections between genres in a way that makes it difficult to determine where compositions end and improvisations begin.

It’s a restrained recording, and Lossing, Morgan and Motian are perfect partners. I’ve been a fan of Lossing since his cooperative disc Change of Time came out in 2001. His playing can at times be overly abstract, but here his solos and running interaction with Blaser strike the perfect balance of emotion and technique. And of course, who better for this type of project than the late Paul Motian? In probably one of his last recordings, his coloration and subtle interjections are reminders of why he was such a sought-after accompanist.

Together, these recordings make the case for Samuel Blaser’s vision and artistry.