CD REVIEW: Samuel Blaser Quartet - Spring Rain

Samuel Blaser Quartet - Spring Rain
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4670. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser has a strong aspiration to further expand the scope of his instrument, unconfined from the worlds of jazz and free improvisation, through this new release of quartet material in tribute to American clarinettist and composer Jimmy Giuffre.

From his beginnings as a classical student (including a scholarship in the States) via straight-down-the-line big band jazz, Blaser has gradually forged his own identity across a number of recordings to express the trombone's wider capabilities into free jazz and other forms. He seeks music-making without constraint ("I want people to know that there is jazz, blues, classical music, beautiful melodies and no boundaries"). Joining him on this bold recording of original compositions, coupled with interpretations of Giuffre and Carla Bley, are regular colleagues Russ Lossing (piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Minimoog), Drew Gress (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums).

Artistically directed by Robert Sadin (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Sting), it's the refreshing cross-genre unpredictability that defines Spring Rain. For example, the original hypnotic jazz clarinet of Giuffre's Cry Want is translated into a brooding contemporary classical landscape of trombone and piano, with Blaser's technical ingenuity matching Russ Lossing's similarly dark, searching textures. The full quartet is introduced in turbulent Missing Mark Suetterlyn, Blaser's own composition striding broadly to spiky, shared trombone and keyboard phrases; and Carla Bley's Temporarily swaggers and slides magnificently.

With Mahlerian horn echoes, the trombonist's Homage solo leads to shadowy Umbra, Lossing's thunderingly sustained piano punctuated by plucked strings; here, recalling psychedelic Davis/Zawinul fusion, Blaser's intoxicating brassiness responds to wildly abstract Rhodes and Minimoog scribbles, buoyed by energetic bass and drums. Giuffre's Scootin' About is more brashly portrayed in this trombone and piano arrangement, overflowing with jagged, tumbling phrases; and although Blaser's tone is predominantly clear and direct, he also possesses the remarkable adaptability to transform it into ambient textures and impressively-mastered multiphonics.

Trudgin' treads cautiously to mournful trombone glissandi and rippling keyboards, whilst title track Spring Rain is haunted by disquieting percussive slivers and knocks, empty chiming piano and trombone growls – a fascinatingly perturbing episode of the unexpected. At almost four minutes, Blaser's Trippin' is a one-man masterclass in bluesy, rhythmic licks and clever multiphonics – quite a feat for solo trombone, which must be pretty staggering to experience live; and Counterparts rattles freely to Drew Gress's heavy drums/percussion, its blistering trombone cascades and harmonics imitated by sforzando piano. To close, Carla Bley's Jesus Maria (once recorded by Giuffre) is, at eight minutes, spellbinding in its devotion; with mercurial bass, piano and brushed snare at its core, the leader bookends the piece by simply stating and restating its theme through softly-muted trombone – very special.

Neither simply an out-and-out jazzer nor free jazz exponent, Samuel Blaser's intention that Spring Rain might "show that the trombone can be melodic and have various forms of expression" is beautifully realised in this imaginative, forward-thinking release.

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