Daily Archives: December 3, 2009

Village Voice’s Jazz Consumer Guide by Tom Hull

Darren Johnston – The Edge of the Forestv (CF 133)
Ben Goldberg’s clarinet takes flight immediately, with Sheldon Brown adding extra oomph on tenor sax and bass clarinet while the leader pokes in bits of trumpet and lays in wait for his breaks. This is postbop that looks forward, with such a broad range of moves and details that you have to credit the composer. These days, virtually all jazz musicians claim that title, but few convince you it matters.

Jazzreview review by Dave Wayne

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!

Free Jazz review by Stef

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces Of Old Sky (CF 151)
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.