Samo Šalamon Quartets

Stretching Out
Samo Records No #

One of Slovenia’s two internationally known jazzmen – (the other? percussionist Zlatko Kaučič) – guitarist Samo Šalamon has developed an elastic musical persona adaptable to many situations. Recorded four years apart, the sessions that make up this two-CD set highlight his so-called American and European quartets. While there is much good work throughout, the superiority of the eight 2012 Continental tracks over the three 2008 U.S. ones, confirms the truth of the old adage, which in this case would be “you can take a musician out of southern Central Europe …”

Primary appeal of the European CD is the group of associates Šalamon has engaged for this excursion. Fiddler Dominique Pifarely and bassist Bruno Chevillon have both worked with Tim Berne, while drummer Roberto Dani has played with pianist Sebastiano Meloni and saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano among many others.

On the whole, Pifarely’s string pops and slices set the mood throughout; either drawing out a singular, jagged sequence which is seconded by the others, or providing the angular stopping as counterpoint to the main theme. Even as these varied approaches are tried on for size, Šalamon maintains his individuality. Preventing the other strings from swelling into syrupy legato runs or spiking into unfathomable strains, the guitarist consistently advances diversionary tactics. On “Molene” for instance, what starts off as an overly delicate composition is toughened by Pifarely’s sharp spiccato runs and Šalamon’s semi-percussive, flamenco-like strums. Instructively as well, clean picking on Šalamon’s part during “The Land of Artichokes” allows the narrative to retain its shape as it’s nonetheless stretched further into atonality by the violinist’s sharpened lines. However after Dani’s rattles and smacks reestablish equilibrium, the piece is transformed into lyrical swing, with the sound picture completed by Chevillon’s walking-bass coda.

Unlike the European group that tries out different strategies to settle on an original approach to improvisation, the American quartet appears to be racing from one tune to the next. Perhaps it’s because at this point Šalamon was still trying on different personal techniques for size. Certainly he picked some of the most accomplished sidemen with which to do his due diligence. Drummer Gerald Cleaver is a composer on his own and has backed stylist as different as saxophonist Ivo Perelman and pianist Cooper-Moore. Bassist John Hébert has worked with everyone from cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum to trombonist Joe Fielder. As for tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, his employers have ranged from the Maria Schneider’s big band to trumpeter Dave Douglas.

This versatility may be the ultimate cause of why the tunes on the first CD are passable, but not as exciting as those on the second. While a full head of steam is worked up by the final “Ice Storm” with the tempo doubling and then doubling again, much of the excitement comes from altissimo reed squeaks, hard drum smacks and some frenzied picking on the guitarist’s part. Nevertheless this tune’s reimagining of a simple Blues line doesn’t completely make up for the initial “My Rain/Kei’s Blues”, which goes on for 30 nearly interminable minutes and modulates many times from buzzy speed to folksier suggestions. On that tune McCaslin’s sheets of sound appear more intense that is perhaps warranted, so that it’s up to Hébert and Cleaver to moderate the fire while keeping the swing on an even keel. Unfortunately as well, Šalamon’s move from comforting comping to finally confront the saxman’s harsh lines is to indulge in guitar hero-like excesses.

Luckily the second CD of this two-disc set is much more recent, confirming that Šalamon and whoever he plays with are now exploring a more sophisticated improvisational path than in the past. Since that 2012 session is palatable in itself, perhaps a one-disc showcase would have been preferable to two CDs.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. My Rain/Kei’s Blues 2. Swamp Area 3. Ice Storm CD2: 1.The Puffins We Never Saw 2. Drizzle 3. Erdeven 3. The Land of Artichokes 4. Molene 5. No Photos! 6. Oyster Picnic 7. Pointe Du Raz.

Personnel: CD1: Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone); Samo Šalamon (guitar); John Hébert (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) CD2: Dominique Pifarely (violin); Šalamon; Bruno Chevillon (bass) and Roberto Dani (drums)