The fertile ground between hard bop and free jazz continues to attract the next generation of jazz artists, most notably trombonist Samuel Blaser. On Pieces of Old Sky, his new CD from Clean Feed, the Swiss-born and New York-developed brassman (now residing in Berlin—yes, he’s an inveterate globetrotter) shows off the fruits of his rapid development as a bandleader and instrumentalist. In a quartet featuring three like-minded collaborators—guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey — Blaser delivers a work that is both imaginative and forceful.
Pieces of Old Sky begins with the title track, a 17-minute long opus that immediately showcases the delicate and ruminative strengths of Blaser’s quartet. Neufeld’s painterly guitar serves as a perfect foil for Blaser’s wide-open declarations, with Morgan’s bass issuing soft punctuation next to Sorey’s atmospheric drums and cymbals. “Chorale I” and “Chorale II,” both clocking in under three minutes, are in a similar vein, seeming in a way like afterthoughts or simply “more pieces of old sky.”
Blaser and his bandmates push up the tempo and look toward Monk and Mingus on Track 2 and prove they can navigate tricky arrangements on “Red Hook,” “Mystical Circle” and “Speed Game,” the enunciation of the respective melodies bouncing back and forth between the trombone and guitar. “Mandala,” the fifth track and a tour de force, finds Blaser playing with a see-saw riff in a display of virtuosity that reminds listeners of the rich, nuanced character of his instrument.
Earning serious attention and enthusiastic praise over the last few years for his daring virtuosity and engaging improvisations, Blaser is a prolific talent with a truly collaborative spirit. In listening to his spectral trombone playing you hear tradition, finesse and questing innovation. His strong, colorful tone allows him to express his musical ideas in a straightforward manner, so each nuance of his phrasing stands complete and purposeful. With an astute command of rhythm and an impeccable ear for melody and harmony, Blaser fashions entertaining original compositions that emphasize his versatile playing and deep commitment to the jazz aesthetic.
“The world of music fascinates me to no end, and I’m determined to take one journey after another with my instrument and work,” says Blaser. “It’s all about discovery and communicating new ideas. Believe me, I’m proof that a shiny trombone can send a message right to your heart and change your life”.
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