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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Samuel Blaser Consort In Motion - A Mirror To Machaut (Songlines,2013) ****½

By Stef 

When Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser released his "Pieces Of Old Sky" in 2009, I was perplexed by his musical vision, the coherence of the sound, and the wholly personal approach to music, later confirmed by albums such as "As The Sea".

What he does here, is even more exceptional. Typically, classical music enters jazz often with well-known tunes to be stripped of the so esteemed boring parts for today's audiences, and redressed as kitschy more dynamic renderings. On A Mirror To Machaut, Blaser reinvents the music by the 14th Century French composer, taking his material as the basis for a warm, welcoming and rich musical universe of highly modern jazz, performed by four stellar musicians, including Joachim Badenhorst on clarinets, Russ Lossing on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Gerry Hemingway on drums.

Blaser re-arranges the music, takes some elements from his medieval source, some themes, and reconfigures them, arranges them to perfection for a strange, sometimes even eery, sound. The opening track, "Hymn" is a bluesy piece, with unison theme, and beautiful soloing by Badenhorst on bass clarinet.

"Douce Dame Jolie" is a wonderful piece for solo bass, joined for the last seconds by the clarinet, a bizarre assymmetrical construction. On "Saltarello" piano and bass weave an open-textured sound to which trombone and clarinet phrases circle around each other in a gentle dreamlike dance, with nightmarish undertones.

"Dames, Se Vous M'Estes Lointein" is built around a structure of fierce drumming by Hemingway, the backbone of the piece if you want, over which a somewhat blaring unison theme is hanging like a herald of pain.

"Color" is characterised by a strange mix of Ellington and Miles Davis, the former in the arrangements of the horns, the latter in the vintage sound of the electric piano.

I will not go into each track, you can listen to it for yourselves, which I highly recommend, but needless to say, this is very varied, very intelligently crafted music, with a stellar band. Badenhorst sounds like you've rarely heard him, demonstrating the deeply emotional quality of his tone on the clarinet, Lossing is his usual tension-builder, a master of pause and anticipation, Gress is precise and solid both plucked and bowed, and I must say that Hemingway is absolutely fabulous, turning drumming to medieval music into an organic blend full of sudden surprises and percussive ear-candy.

Blaser himself is also quite exceptional for two other reasons. First, the music is king, and if the music does not require a trombone, then the trombone does not enter the piece, and even if the trombone is playing, it is hardly ever in a front stage position. Second, Blaser is a trombonist who knows that the power of his instrument lies in the quality of its sound, which is often best heard when played slowly and with precision.

Yet his true quality is his grasp of music, his playfulness with the material (check out the many tempo changes on "Linea"), the quality and coherence of the sound, the great arrangements, the accuracy of the execution, and the sheer fun of it, even when the pieces are solemn or sad. This is a true delight to listen to. It is modern jazz, and probably too unusual for mainstream audiences, therefore it has its place on this blog. And I can only encourage you all to listen to it.


Martin Schray said...

If you want to get an impression of the music watch this very nice video:

Anonymous said...

really enjoying this album, beautiful stuff

Unknown said...

Yes, this is a really nice album. Samuel Blaser can seemingly do no wrong. His previous album on Kind of Blue called Consort in Motion is also great

Stef said...

Thanks guys, i had not seen the video, now embedded