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Music Review: Samuel Blaser Quartet – Pieces of Old Sky

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Born in Switzerland, Samuel Blaser lived in the heart of Swiss watch-making country. The town he was born in, La Chaux-de-Fonds, was also a vibrant jazz community and housed a pair of expatriate American jazz legends in Kenny Clarke and Sidney Bechet.

It stands to reason, then, that Pieces of Old Sky would embody both the meticulousness of Swiss watch-making and the free form jazz of living in a musical community.

The Samuel Blaser Quartet, one of many groups of which Blaser is an active member, features Blaser’s measured trombone skills alongside the guitar of Todd Neufeld, the double bass of Thomas Morgan, and the drums of Tyshawn Sorey.

Still in his twenties, Blaser’s skill as bandleader is surprisingly mature and represents a sense of timing and poise that few musicians hold. His playing is creative and measured, infused with poise and the natural ability to mesh seamlessly with the other performers.

Pieces of Old Sky demonstrates the quartet’s clever and calm mastery of their craft. It is filled with moments of stunning volatility and moving precision, allowing each member to showcase his art with accents and splashes of musical colour. Through it all, Blaser remains both the centre and foundation of the record through his thrilling playing.

Measured playing is the order of the day on the album’s opening track, the lush and extensive “Pieces of Old Sky.” Clocking in at 17 minutes, the title track is delicate, soft and meaningful. It serves as the perfect elegant introduction to the players in the quartet, as each member softly makes an entrance over Sorey’s deep percussion and Morgan’s atmospheric bass.

“Red Hook” shifts things in somewhat of a different direction. Blaser’s trombone moves through the tricky arrangement eloquently, but it’s Neufeld’s guitar that stands out as he punches the notes and adds glowing texture.

Other tracks make great use out of the communication between bandmates, such as the well-paced “Mandala.” The interplay is astonishing, as it relies on hushed, open spaces more than filled boxes of composition. “Mandala” is a track best exemplified by its lack of force in that it allows the quartet the time and space to move cleanly and clearly through a subtle piece of work.

Pieces of Old Sky is a haunting and exhilarating collection of work from the Samuel Blaser Quartet. Exemplifying the attention to detail and carriage of the leader while honouring the traditional skill of each individual player, this is a jazz record that respects the silence and stillness as much as it respects the driving heartiness of well-played jazz.

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