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Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser is an important, relatively new voice on his instrument who boasts gifts as a mature but curious bandleader and composer. Still, the general jazz world — especially Stateside — has yet to pay due attention, partly for lack of exposure. For a fine introduction to Blaser’s world, proceed to his impressive new Early in the Mornin.’ Over the malleable course of 10 tracks, and with cameos by alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and trumpeter Wallace Roney, Blaser states his case as an organically broad-minded musician who finds no contradiction in blending his fascination with the blues — of the country, Southern and also jazz-related kind — and experimental, avant-garde thinking.
Grounding the project is Blaser’s solid, empathic group, with Russ Lossing on keyboards (piano and the ’70s-nostalgic timbres of sometimes distortion-smudged electric piano, as well as clavinet, Minimoog and Hammond B-3); Masa Kamaguchi on double bass; and Gerry Hemingway on drums. Blaser asserts his presence as a leader, but he’s a benevolent and collaborative one, giving the other players due expressive space.
Veteran Lake, conversant with the matchmaking of abstraction and tradition, literally starts the proceedings with an angular solo-sax intro on the blues-basted, kick-off title track. He returns to join Roney on “Levee Camp Moan,” another blues with a twist or three that utilizes snaky three-part horn writing to thicken the musical plot. Blaser’s solo moves seamlessly from blues riffs and bebop backflips to multi-phonics and Mingus-esque colors. He plumbs a richer palette and lends a mournful cast to the swampy ballad “Tom Sherman” and conjures up an elastic sonic range on “Black Betty.”
Echoes of Miles Davis saunter through the album, as channeled naturally by Roney’s searching, Miles-tinged trumpet on “The House Carpenter,” or via the sly paraphrasing of “All Blues” on “Klaxon” before the piece fragments and reshapes itself. In the end, fragmenting, reshaping, testifying and probing propel Early in the Mornin’ to fascinating, artful ends.— Josef Woodard
Feature photo by Jean-Baptiste Millot