Samuel Blaser: Pieces of Old Sky & Vol à Voile
Samuel Blaser – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Pierre Favre/Samuel Blaser – Vol à Voile
There’s a wonderfully eerie quality to Pieces of Old Sky, trombonist Samuel Blaser’s recording with guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Opening with the 17-minute title track, Blaser conjures a mood of dark, open expanse and gradual development. Neufeld lets his gently clanging chords and lines hang in the air, setting their quasi-metallic sound against Blaser’s horn, which is sleek and legato but not without an edge of its own. Apparently, Blaser has a thing for guitarists of the slightly grungier type: he recruited Marc Ducret for a recent tour and his 2008 debut 7th Heaven featured the underrated Scott DuBois.
With “Red Hook” and later with “Mystical Circle” and “Speed Game,” Blaser introduces fast, corkscrewing unison lines and tight orchestration, departing radically from the drawn-out minimalism of the first piece. There are several spots where Blaser falls quiet and allows Neufeld, Morgan and Sorey to stretch, much like they did as a trio on Sorey’s recent album Koan. But Blaser adds a deeper mournful mystery to their sound, evoking the blues (and perhaps a hint of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) on “Mandala” and sketching in fine melodic fashion with Neufeld on “Choral I” and “Choral II”—the first as a duo, the second as a trio with Morgan and no drums.
Along with his highly developed quartet language, Blaser has made a mark with the unaccompanied disc Solo Bone and a duo with pianist Malcolm Braff titled YaY. To this we can add Vol à Voile (“gliding”), Blaser in duo with veteran Swiss drummer and improviser Pierre Favre. Here we get a much fuller view of the growling, groaning multiphonic techniques Blaser hints at during “Mandala” from Pieces of Old Sky. On “Quai des Brumes” he even achieves a contrapuntal effect, moving vocal pitches up and down against a low drone.
Favre brings an endless richness of timbre to the music, including bell-like tones on the closing title track, beautifully hollow and high-pitched toms on “Inextricable” and a huge yet softly blanketing kick drum sound on “Franchement!” (“honestly!”) and “Babel I.” The nine tracks slink in and out of tempo and Blaser plays a largely melodic improvising role, although the tables are turned on “We Tried” when the horn almost becomes a rhythm section, riffing steadily on two notes while Favre assumes the role of soloist. There’s nothing else like it on the record or for that matter on Pieces of Old Sky. But such is Blaser’s ability to cover all bases and continually adapt.