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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Samuel Blaser Quartet - Pieces Of Old Sky (Clean Feed, 2009) ****½

Seldom have I heard music that is so open-textured while being harmonically coherent at the same time. Credits go to Samuel Blaser on trombone, Thomas Morgan on bass, Todd Neufeld on guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The magnificent title piece slowly evolves out of the basic and almost pristine sounds of the four instruments. They take their time to clearly articulate each note, leaving the listener to enjoy its superb quality, slowly and deeply, minimalist in a way, creating an atmosphere that is both sad and dark. Blaser's trombone-playing is what it should be in my view, slow, measured, giving his instrument its full-toned expressivity. Then listen to Neufeld, whose guitar tones are crisp and clear, with punctuated and extremely functional interventions, and when you hear it, you think, brilliant, this is how it should sound and no other alternative is possible, just to illustrate the wonderful balance. Morgan's bass is in the same vein: a note here, a pluck there, just co-creating a fragile sound-structure, woven from the most ephemereal threads. Sorey's drumming is equally functional: he doesn't lay any real foundation for the other musicians, he adds the sizzle, the beat, the brush-stroke at the right moments, adding to the texture. The slowness of the opening piece is only matched by "Mandala", which is even more open-textured, more sparse, yet followed by the aptly named "Speed Game", but even then the tempo declines and freedom emerges. The other uptempo composition "Red Hook" is also a winner, with long unison lines and a wilder improvisations.

In all, a great album, with a very powerful musical vision of aural delicacies, a gourmet of sounds to savor, each individually and combined. Take your time and enjoy, a real treat.

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