Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Pieces of Old Sky is the odd disc out in this selection, frequently departing from the structural, rhythmic and harmonic conventions that prevail on the above discs in favour of a more conversational and spacious esthetic.
The Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Blaser and his New York-based rhythm section (guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey) basically alternate between two broad modes of playing.
The music is very often slow, patient, minor-key and mysterious, dedicated to gradual evolution and very democratic participation. That’s especially true of the title track and opener, a stunning 17-minute example of less-is-more. It strikes me as a thorough, three-dimensional exploration of a sonic environment. There’s a peak around the track’s 11-minute mark, when guitar and trombone melodies dovetail and Sorey’s drumming kicks up a notch. But otherwise, the track is one of the most deliberate and intriguing examples of music unfolding like, well, the mass of clouds depicted on the CD cover. (It might only be surpassed in terms of musical patience by the phenomenally still CD Koan by — surprise! — drummer Sorey, joined by guitarist Neufeld and bassist Morgan.)
The shorter tracks, Choral I and Choral II, revisit the same world of nuances and oozing development. On these tracks, the crucial relationship between Neufeld’s spidery guitar and Blaser’s full-bodied horn is front and centre.
The tracks Red Hook, Mystical Circle and Speed Game are more brisk and jolting, with complex melodies and counterpoints used as the points of departure for wide-open improvising. Sorey, a master of restraint on so much of the disc, explodes with authority at the end of Red Hook.
Although the pleasures of Blaser’s disc are more rarefied and enigmatic than the enjoyments afforded by the CDs by Fahie, Keberle and Davis, they are real pleasures nonetheless.