Sunday, August 25, 2013

Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion, A Mirror to Machaut

Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion
A Mirror to Machaut

Samuel Blaser - Trombone
Joachim Badenhorst - Bass Clarinet, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone
Russ Lossing - Piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer
Drew Gress - Double Bass
Gerry Hemingway - Drums, Percussion

A member of the Organissimo forum called the first Consort in Motion CD “a minor masterpiece,” and I would have to agree. That self-titled release on Kind of Blue had an ambitious concept: Adapt the early Italian baroque music of Monteverdi, Marini and Frescobaldi to a modern jazz ensemble. For the follow-up on Songlines, Blaser retains Russ Lossing on piano and brings in Drew Gress on bass and Gerry Hemingway for the late Paul Motian on drums. In addition, he adds a second horn in clarinetist/saxist Joachim Badenhorst.

Listening to A Mirror to Machaut without reading any background on the recording will lead one to ask why it shares the Consort in Motion label with the first CD, as the execution is much different. Not only is there the additional texture of the reed instrument, mainly clarinet, but Lossing adds Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano to the mix. On further inspection, the two recordings share the overarching concept of blending early music forms with jazz improvisation, this time around the late medieval music of French composers Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay.

The tracks featuring compositions by Machaut are brief, almost too brief at times. Douce Dame Jolie features some lovely clarinet that feels cut short by the abrupt ending. The longer tracks, all composed by Blaser, alternate between a restrained, moody chamber group feel and a more funky, electronic-tinged approach. When Lossing cuts loose with some distortion and Badenhorst comments on bass clarinet, echoes of Bitches Brew are evoked. Add the trombone and you’ve got definite comparisons on those cuts to the Mwandishi band and Julian Priester’s forgotten classic, Love, Love.

The individual performances on A Mirror to Machaut are flawless. Lossing has always been very cerebral on anything I’ve heard from him, so it’s fun to hear him cut loose a little. Badenhorst is lovely on clarinets, Gress is his usual superb, subtle self and Hemingway presents a nice mix of restraint and heavier tom tom action. A Mirror to Machaut is not as cohesive as its predecessor, but it’s a rewarding recording on its own terms. 

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