December 11, 2015
Samuel Blaser Quartet
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4620
By Ken Waxman
Like the bird which is able to replicate others’ songs, trombonist Samuel Blaser is crafty enough to adopt particular musical persona for each project. On Spring Rain for instance the Swiss-born, Berlin-based Samuel Blaser honors Jimmy Giuffre’s early ‘60s trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow by recording five of its tunes plus seven originals in that chamber jazz style. On his recent A Mirror to Machaut (Songlines), he performed a similar feat, sophisticatedly re-imagined early Renaissance motifs for the 21st century. But in practice, the trombonist’s results differ convincingly from those of the imitative fowl. With canny arrangements and expressive skills, Spring Rain’s program is cunningly original, even as tunes composed by Giuffre and Carla Bley are interpreted.
One change is this CD’s emphasis on Russ Lossing’s use of Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and mini-Moog more than piano. Meanwhile the rest of the all-American backing – drummer Gerald Cleaver’s comprehensive rhythmic skills plus bassist’s Drew Gress’s sympathetic theme prodding – invests the tunes with just enough bottom so that they subtly swing, while staying true to Giuffre’s elaborate clockwork-timed concepts. These classics continue to resonate. Yet like a new engine inserted in a classic chassis, pieces like Bley’s “Temporarily” are souped up, with drum rolls adding to the stop-time arrangement. Additionally, “Trudgin’”, a Giuffre line, is stretched past its initial theme with elastic band tautness, as Lossing tints the result with baroque-like filigree from his electric piano. Even a respectful reading of Giuffre’s “Cry Want”, which a meanders unhurriedly as if the band is motoring along a rural Texas trail, has its surface smoothness disrupted by raucous trombone snorts and percussive piano key clips.
Blaser’s own compositions broaden the mood with uncommon methods. For instance the trombonist’s pensive performance of “Missing Mark Suetterlyn” is serrated with in-the-pocket drum beats and splattering glissandi from the Wurlitzer. Courtesy of the Fender Rhodes, “The First Snow” may swirl with tones that relate more to ‘70s electric jazz than flurries, but the narrative’s tough centre harden the performance to hail-like consistency. A piano-trombone duo, “Umbra” confirms that like his mentor(s), Blaser can appealingly output a relaxed ballad; meanwhile his two solo tracks substantiate his exquisite instrumental command.
Spring Rain suitably and uniquely salutes a jazz hero while showcasing the skills of improvisers who propel the tradition in their own manner.
Tracks: Cry Want; Missing Mark Suetterlyn; Temporarily; Homage; Umbra; The First Snow; Scootin’ About; Trudgin’; Spring Rain
Personnel: Samuel Blaser (trombone); Russ Lossing (piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, mini-Moog); Drew Gress (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)
—For The New York City Jazz Record December 2015