Tag Archives: Todd Neufeld

Cadence Magazine review by Gordon Hilton Fick

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of old Sky (CF 151)
Trombonist, Blaser, is joined by a trio of guitar, bass and drums. Not a common configuration. In addition to this recording, Blaser has recordings as leader on ‘Between the Lines’ and ‘Intakt’. He was also a co-leader on one of Paul Motian’s last recordings called ‘Consort in Motian’ on the Kind Of Blue label. Trombonist led albums have a way of either having quite wide appeal or being for specialists only. I judge this album under review to fit into the latter. For the opening tune, in particular, I am not thrilled with the trombone tone. I am sure that the leader has made this quite intentional. On the other hand, these four musicians invite you to pay close attention to their quiet and reflective environment. I do think that the opening piece goes on too long. Attention fails me. Their point was clearly made in the first eight minutes or so of this piece. Drummer, Sorey, gets my vote in the second piece called ‘Red Hook’ and the bassist, Morgan, has interesting messages to provide. Here, Blaser provides a vastly more interesting sound that reveals his huge chops and the listener is given more to chew on. A substantial and engaging piece of music. The next piece returns to a forlorn setting that wears me out quickly. Then, ‘Mystical Circle’ provides a rather academic and technical start that is then energized by Sorey.  However, it then takes me to a confused place and rebuilds for a time but, alas, offers no real sense of momentum. Maybe I continue to be thrown off by this recording with its stops, pauses and leaps forward to no seeming advantage. The next piece ‘Mandala’ nevertheless invites one to reconsider ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ but then takes one elsewhere. Excellent sound from the folks at Clean Feed. This record is a bit of an enigma to me after several tries. I would say there is considerable grounding for the future here. I sense better next steps will be found with these intriguing musicians.

Ottawa Citizen blog review by Peter Hum

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.

All About Jazz review by David Adler

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.

Culture Jazz review by Yves Dorison

Samuel BLASER – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Le ciel est bleu, le ciel est vieux. Les morceaux que propose le quartet de Samuel Blaser nous sont-ils tombés sur la tête ? Nous posons la question car nous les sentons rampants dans les affres de la désaffection, sombrement construits autour d’une somme d’altérités sonores où s’entrecroisent des réminiscences mélodiques anciennes. Est-ce un monde insondable ? Pressentie plus qu’abordée, la confiance qu’on lui désaccorde est limitée tant il semble né pour nous cerner. Et nous, offert à la tentation du discernement, nous l’écoutons fuir, comme un qui perd un peu de lui-même, à chaque pas, sur un chemin d’angoisse.

Samuel Blaser 4tetPieces of old skyLe trombone de Samuel Blaser genère des souffles sépulcraux. Autour de lui, les inspirations harmoniques des autres musiciens absorbent les silences, les transforment en erratiques nuées d’où sourdent quelques tonalités marquées par l’urgence d’un jaillissement qui aimerait être libérateur. Le paysage musical est baigné d’urbanisme blafard, de mysticisme ambigu, de murs suintants et graisseux, de vaines et soudaines excitations dans des ruelles livrées à elles-mêmes avant que le jour ne se relève. Le trombone, encore, qui nous appelle par volutes mineures, nous colle à l’oreille un frissonnement poignant, de ces frissonnements qui raclent l’esprit des os. Un univers interlope nous entrouve des paysages en nue propriété. Ils nous laissent songeur, le cul sur un talus. A-t-on bien entendu ? It ain’t necessarily so semble dire le choral final.

All About Jazz review by Eyal Hareuveni

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Samuel Blaser is a musician to watch. He has a unique and personal vision, imaginative scope of articulation, and an ability to communicate and surprise with his sonic discoveries and ideas. This excellent new recording, his best so far, impresses more with every listening.

The album was recorded in New York with three forward-thinking collaborators—guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the same trio that collaborated on Sorey’s recent masterful Koan (482 Music, 2009). Blaser’s original compositions are arranged as a suite that moves between delicate, soft declarations and forceful, energetic outbursts.

The title piece sounds like an extension of the sessions of Koan. This 17-minute opus has the same spiritual quality, where open-ended, ethereal improvisation with nuanced and fragmented abstraction has an intense power and magical beauty. The spare and introspective interplay sounds thoughtful but at the same time has a haunting, emotional intimacy. Two short selections, “Choral I” and “Choral II,” that punctuate the more energetic pieces, continue in the same vein, as afterthoughts of the title piece.

Other pieces feature evolutionary progressions of the compositional innovations of Charles Mingus and sometimes Thelonious Monk, especially on the playful “Red Hook,” with Morgan’s fat- sounding bass, in the way that all the players bounce back and forth pieces of the theme as they push each other forward. “Mandala” is a remarkable tour de force of Blaser’s abilities as a leader and soloist. He is a master instrumentalist who has an idiosyncratic voice, assured and strong, aware of the tradition of his instrument but determined to advance with his own sound, with great finesse and rich, nuanced phrasing, an impeccable ear for harmony, and tons of imagination.

This quartet has created its own fascinating sonic universe on their first recording as a quartet; an admirable achievement.

Audiophile Audition review by Doug Simpson

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Space – a sense of isolation, independence and personal investigation into interior and exterior elements – pervades Pieces of Old Sky, trombonist Samuel Blaser’s fourth release as leader. Blaser, returning collaborator Thomas Morgan (bass) and new members Tyshawn Sorey (drums) and Todd Neufeld (guitar), traverse along ambient/free jazz terrain that has a depth of vision and clarity revealing musical maturity beyond Blaser’s nearly three decades of life (he was born in 1981).

This 56-minute, 7-track outing has a scope and sound similar to some artists associated with the ECM label as well as modern creative composers like Henry Threadgill and Grachan Moncur III. In other words, Blaser’s work combines reflective ambience with material that looks to the past (Mingus’ and Monk’s influence can be heard at times) as well as the future (there is much innovation and a quest for discovery that is felt throughout) while building art that has a desolate refinement.

Pieces of Old Sky commences with the 17-minute title track, an epic opus that exemplifies the quartet’s meditative mannerism. Neufeld sketches soundscapes on guitar while Blaser contributes understated hues that give a spectral solicitation to the slowly revolving improvisation. This is a tune that requires patience, since there is no sure resolution. The rhythm section provides soft measured bass and percussion punctuation, at times just a plucked note or a brushed cymbal. About ten minutes in, the song takes on a bluesy configuration, Blaser offering an absorbing trombone solo as Sorey and Morgan render a brisker stride. The piece concludes as it starts with a contemplative poise filled with instinctive pauses.

The band’s pensive personality is also mirrored during two twinned interludes, “Choral I” and “Choral II,” both under three minutes. The first condensed cut is a dulcet duet between Blaser and Neufeld. The moderate sounds seem to accentuate the vast silences and muted colors of the slipcase artwork: the empty slate of sky, the drab gray-brown of the urban buildings, the watered mistiness of low-lying clouds and the absence of life. The same lingering melody runs through the second brief bestowal. The album-ender, “Choral II,” though, includes all four players, who underscore the impression of half-invisible ghosts that trail among the gentle, watchful notes.

“Red Hook” is an explicit stimulant where the four musicians bump up the tempo and demonstrate they can maneuver through a complex arrangement with virtuosity while maintaining a group cohesiveness. Blaser blazes on his horn, his animated tone giving structure to the free-flowing, eight-minute cut while also assisting in adjusting the tune so it never seems too straightforward. Blaser’s approach to phrasing is outstanding, displaying his complete and decisive control. Sorey helps furnish “Red Hook” a restlessness as he continually shifts moods with deftness and dispatch. The composition eventually modifies into a free-jazz section that features avid improvisation that includes a distorted Neufeld effort and also has Sorey in a near fervor on his toms and cymbals.

“Speed Game” is comparable. The song is not the noisy nugget the title implies but it does have a vivid impact. There is dynamic dialogue between Blaser, Sorey and Neufeld. Blaser confirms his command of multiphonics and his ability to utilize prolonged, low tones akin to a tuba or bass trombone. As the foursome works their way via the knotty arrangement they exhibit an incendiary discipline and an understanding that attains an almost extrasensory level of communication.

“Mystical Circle” is another elongated enterprise tinged with a sensation of secluded pathos. Each player responds to the somber disposition with sympathy. Neufeld presents a bell-like style, his strings echoing in the background as Blaser inserts clusters of trombone chords into the arrangement. Sorey’s bass courses with determination while Sorey illustrates the importance of allowing music to breathe at a slow tempo and that a percussionist can be charismatic without resorting to busy beats.

“Mandala” is a further memorable venture. The 11-minute piece has a shaded characteristic. The distilled and sparse arrangement finds the quartet performing a contoured blues motif. Blaser expresses an ebbing inclination that inches forward until he and the others generate a faster setting. The wiry form never disappears but Blaser and Neufeld do add fragments of rumble and torque. Here, Neufeld uses chordal choices and intonations divorced of any transparent influences, although Ralph Towner’s impressionistic focus comes to mind. Morgan’s bass carries a similar poise and providence.

Joe Marciano does a superb supporting role as audio engineer/mixer. From the all but inaudible opening to the last ending note, Marciano and producer Blaser sustain a polished depth. Each impeccably tapped percussive element, every nuance of phrasing stands out purposeful and complete. Marciano ably captures the album’s shrouded ambience, where shading and texture are important. This attention to detail is a hallmark of other Clean Feed projects and bodes well for the label and the jazz experts connected with the company.

Time Out Lisboa review by José Carlos Fernandes

Samuel Blaser – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151) ***
Uma doce agonia crepuscular. Delicadas paisagens sonoras que se desdobram sem pressa. Jazz slowcore em tons sépia. O trombonista suíço Samuel Blaser reuniu um quarteto de luxo e meteu-o a meditar. Há resquícios de blues (“Mandala”) e a contemplação pode dar lugar à inquietação (“Red Hook”, “Speed Game”), mas nada de swing ou qualquer forma de pulsação regular. A bateria (o fabuloso Tyshawn Sorey) não está ali para marcar ritmos mas para criar texturas e cor.
As sete peças do CD são fascinantes quando tomadas uma a uma, mas a ausência de contornos definidos e a similitude das atmosferas instaura alguma monotonia. O céu de fim de tarde pode oferecer um espectáculo magnífico, mas é preciso vocação Zen para contemplar o pôr-do-sol durante uma hora a fio.

Jazz and Blues review by Tim Niland

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
It’s interesting when an album so reflects in music the cover, belying the old adage that you can’t judge something by its cover and that album art is dead in the age of digital media. The stark and beautiful photography on trombonist Samuel Blaser’s album features a yellowing sky that signals either an approaching storm or a retreating one. The music on this album is analogous to these images, very open and spacious with smears of trombone and scattered percussion drifting into abstraction and then when you least expect it returning to melody. Blaser is joined on this album by guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Moody and atmospheric sonic colors and textures play a critical role on the epic title track, which moves through sections of slow and patient improvisation. Sorey is the perfect accompanist for this album, as he has shown in his own work as a leader, he is comfortable letting the music breathe at slow tempos. It would be interesting to hear this band compose for cinema or as part of an art exhibit, the colors that they conceive with their music would blend well with art or film.

Sound + Vision review by Nuno Galopim

Disco da Semana

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Gravado a 5 de Junho de 2008 nos Systems Two Studios (Brooklyn, Nova Iorque), este Pieces of Old Sky propõe sete retratos urbanos em tom de suave intimismo. Samuel Blaser (trombone) comanda o seu quarteto — com Todd Neufeld (guitarra), Thomas Morgan (contrabaixo) e Tyshawn Sorey (bateria) — através de deambulações de uma elegância habitada por discretas emoções, celebrando um jazz moderno pelas derivações, tradicional pelo espírito — é mais uma excelente edição com a chancela Clean Feed.

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky (CF 151)
Samuel Blaser, His Trombone, His Quartet
Samuel Blaser is not somebody I am very familiar with. He plays an impeccably solid balladic trombone, at least on his Pieces of Old Sky CD (Clean Feed). He is well served by his quartet, which includes Todd Neufeld on electric guitar, Thomas Morgan on contrabass and Tyshan Sorey on drums. We took a look at the latter’s Koan in the August 19, 2009 posting of my Gapplegate Music Blog at http://www.gapplegate.com/musicalblog.htm. That CD has Sorey, Neufeld and Morgan minus Blaser.

Like Koan, Pieces of Sky has meditative moments and a kind of sprawling free baladic style that owes something to Charlie Haden and Paul Motian’s earlier work, though not in any direct sense. Blaser’s trombone builds expressive musical sequences that are a pleasure to hear and the trio gives a subtle, nuanced accompaniment.

It’s not all balladic though. “Red Hook,” for example gets a head of steam going and Todd Neufeld sounds terrific combining unusual chording and impassioned single lines.

This is a record that deserves your attentive ear. Blaser genuinely contends as a trombonist deserving recognition and the trio has something good to say musically. Recommended.