Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
“Pieces of Old Sky” is Samuel Blaser’s fourth recording as a leader. Previous sessions led by the Swiss trombonist include a quartet (“7th Heaven”), a solo trombone CD, and a duet CD with pianist Malcolm Braff – all issued within the past year or so. Not yet 30, Blaser is blessed with a penchant for musical experimentation, along with a Herculean work ethic and a massive amount of talent. All of this is clearly evident on “Pieces of Old Sky,” in which Blaser also made the astute decision to retain the services of drummer Tyshawn Sorey, bassist Thomas Morgan (who worked with Blaser on “7th Heaven”), and guitarist Todd Neufeld. Not only are these fellows three of the most interesting jazz musicians on the scene today, but they also work together in a trio led by Sorey. There’s both a combustible chemistry and a deep understanding between these four musicians, and the level of interplay and the content of that special telepathic je ne sais quoi on this disc approaches the heights reached by the Dave Holland Quintet in its heyday, though the music here is quite a bit free-er than Holland’s recent small group efforts.
“Pieces of Old Sky” is dominated by somber moods and moderate to slow tempos – a bit like a great lost ECM session. This is exemplified by the title track, a 17-minute-plus epic of darkly pensive moodiness, pregnant pauses, and impossibly magical interplay. ‘Mandala’ is a strangely mutated blues that drifts into an elegantly sparse setting for solos by Blaser and Neufeld. Here, Neufeld’s guitar stands out. Like several of today’s 20-something up-and-coming jazz guitarists (Mary Halvorsen, Ila Cantor, and a few others come to mind), his choices and sounds are remarkably free of obvious ‘player-type’ influences. Morgan’s bass playing similarly combines eloquence and economy. ‘Red Hook’ is a fearsome piece with a tricky, convoluted head that melts into a free-ish section that features some of the CD’s most heated improvisational moments. Neufeld breaks out a distortion unit or two for some jazzy-metal noisemaking, while Sorey storms around on his toms like a madman. ‘Speed Game’ is similar. Though not quite the noise-fest that its title led me to believe, there are some sublime exchanges between Blaser, Sorey and Neufeld during the piece’s lengthy collective improvisation. Throughout the entire CD, Blaser is simply amazing – his soloing reaches amazing heights of creativity and technicality and he never loses sight of what his band-mates are up to. As a soloist, one of Blaser’s reference points is the late, great Albert Mangelsdorff – this is especially evident when he uses multiphonics.
“Pieces of Old Sky” is an equally impressive and inspired recording by four of the finest young musicians around today. By all means, seek this one out!