Braff / Blaser Duo – YaY (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
Peter Van Huffel/Sophie Tassignon – Hufflignon (CF 126)
Trombonist Samuel Blaser has been making a name for himself for the last few years, building a reputation for inventive improvisations and inspired virtuosity. He has been in constant motion, splitting his time between New York and his adopted Germany, having found his way to the States via a Fulbright Scholarship. He has been active as a composer and bandleader, with a wonderful quartet release on the Between The Lines label and more material on the way from Clean Feed. Blaser is also active as a sideman, working with artists as disparate as Dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry and the legendary avant-big band the Vienna Art Orchestra. Blaser’s proficient and creative playing is featured on two great recent discs, one led by saxist Peter Van Huffel and the other featuring the duo of Blaser and Brazilian pianist Malcolm Braff.
One might expect a piano/trombone duo to be dominated by lyricism and melody, with perhaps little more than a passing flare for rhythmic intrigue. However, on YaY, detailed rhythmic framework takes the listener down an unexpected but assured path, full of momentum and drive, while never straying far from tonality. Braff was raised in Dakar, Senegal and the multifaceted rhythmic layering of West African music distinguishes the duo’s approach. Blaser and Braff evoke percussion traditions on pieces like Braff’s title track and “Yele,” while nodding towards American jazz and gospel music on tunes like their very buoyant take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Blaser’s soulful “Uncle Sam”. Braff’s prepared piano and Blaser’s extended trombone vocabularies expand the textural palette, while at the same time highlighting the rhythmic aspects of the duo’s interactions. At times, the sonic density and variance in texture are so striking, it sounds like there are more than two musicians. The interactions remain nuanced and intricate, with sublimely delicate moments balanced with a general penchant for pursuant momentum.
Saxophonist Peter Van Huffel and vocalist Sophie Tassignon’s new release, Hufflignon, features compositions by both musicians, brought to life by an unusual quartet of trombone, woodwinds, voice and contrabass. Huffel and Blaser are often teamed up with intricately-voiced melodies, while bassist Michael Bates alternates between foundational support, textural bowing and thoughtful melodic statements. Tassignon’s singing is quite versatile; on more structured pieces like “Thoughts And Memories” and the opener, “Dégringolade,” she exhibits horn-like melodic and rhythmic dexterity, while at other times her voice wanders through a labyrinthine maze of amorphous syllabic abstractions. Two examples of the latter approach include “Landscape (morning)” and “The Sad Imposing Tree,” both of which provide wonderfully abstract sound worlds. That isn’t to say that the music is at all dualistic; rather, the abstractions and melodies react nicely together, creating a unified sonic environment that moves freely between steady pulse and more introspective arrangements of sound. Tassignon’s piece “Nervous Breakdown” veers closer to the careening chamber improvisation of the Paul Bley/Steve Swallow-era Jimmy Giuffre 3, with a dexterous solo from Blaser. Van Huffel’s playing throughout is richly nuanced, with melody and texture seamlessly integrated to create colorful and evocative statements.