December 1, 2015
Samuel Blaser Quartet
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4620
By Ken Waxman
An original variant on the practice of saluting earlier jazz heroes by recording their tunes, Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Samuel Blaser honors Jimmy Giuffre’s early 1960s trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, by recording five of its tunes plus seven originals in restrained chamber jazz style. But even as Blaser empathizes with the particular sound constructed by compositions Giuffre and Carla Bley wrote for the trio, he’s like a chair designer modernizing the ergonomics concepts of 50 years ago to 2015.
For a start he uses a quartet not a trio, and while there’s a sympathetic bassist in Drew Gress, his trombone and Gerald Cleaver’s drums replace Giuffre’s reeds. Most prominently, instead of using sparse acoustic piano inferences exclusively, keyboardist Russ Lossing emphasizes the textures from Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and mini-Moog. With Gress’ sympathetic string bumping and Cleaver’s dextrous patterning providing a taut rhythmic foundation, the others are free to bend melodies origami-like into novel shapes. For example, Bley’s “Temporarily” is souped-up with a stop-time arrangement; and “Trudgin’”, a Giuffre line, becomes more ambulatory as Lossing’s rococo electric piano fills make the journey buoyant as well as lengthier. Giuffre’s classic plaint, “Cry Want”, may ramble along like a drive in the country, but Blaser’s roistering slide blasts and the pianist’s ability to roughen the texture by mauling chords, activates the piece from its bucolic repose.
Blaser’s originals are as contemporary as a clock on a smart phone, but the same way that time-keeping is based on classic Swiss concern for precision, most don’t neglect the coiled nonchalance suggested by the Giuffre3. “Missing Mark Suetterlyn”, for instance, is a pensive ballad built up from the Wurlitzer’s drenched glissandi plus staggered drum beats; while Umbra, featuring only piano and trombone, is as tranquil anything Giuffre created. On the other hand two unaccompanied tracks showcase Blaser’s unalloyed instrumental command. And “The First Snow” is actually a near blizzard that picks up cues from 1970s Fusion via the juddering Rhodes. Authentic in its reflection of sounds past, present and future, the CD is another fluid example of this brass player’s flourishing talent.
—For The Whole Note December 2015