RGG/Pohjola/Blaser

City of Gardens
Fundacja Słuchaj FSR 08/2018

Samuel Blaser

Early in the Mornin’

Outthere Records OTN 626

After more than a decade of establishing himself as an individual voice as improviser and composer, Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Samuel Blaser is apt to turn up in an assortment of sympathetic situations as leader or associate. A reimaging of 10 traditional Blues themes, Early in the Mornin’ is a program that unites Blaser’s earthy brass drive with an American-oriented rhythm section and two American guests on a couple of tracks. A festival presentation City of Gardens has the trombonist, Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and the Polish RGG trio interpret five compositions by the trio’s bassist Maciej Garbowski.

Multi-keyboardist Russ Lossing, drummer Gerry Hemingway and bassist Masa Kamaguchi have been subsets of Blaser bands over the years and the concentrated pulse from the bassist and drummer plus their inventive upsurges as well as Lossing’s mastery of piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, clavinet, Hammond B3 and mini-moog add transformative motifs to every track here. Additionally alto saxophonist Oliver Lake’s sharpened yelps play off against Blaser’s blasting harmonies and electric piano jiggles on the title track and brings the requisite funk to dilute Wallace Roney’s Milesian flutters when the band become a sextet on “Levee Camp Moan Blues”. Introduced by knife-sharp double bass twangs from Kamaguchi, the track chugs along as its roots inferences are personified by Lake’s split tones, Roney’s flutter tonguing and dusky slurs from Blaser.

On other tracks as the only horn, the trombonist uses a collection of mutes and unexpected slide positions and fingering to provide expressive narratives. “Black Betty” for instance is a duet contrasting the lowest-pitched brass hollers and weighty slaps from Hemingway’s kit. However as Lossing expresses Blues tonality with both a juddering bass key organ continuum and dramatic piano coloration that weds formalism to primitvist phrasing, Blaser responses with emphasized tailgate slurs. As distinct pulsation from each member of the quartet unfold every which way, the trombonist and crew prove that genuine and earnest musical emotions can be triumphantly expressed even in an idiom that has been plowed as deeply and frequently as a sharecropper’s 40 acres.

Distinct as pierogies and vodka are from fried chicken and moonshine, City of Gardens allows the world to share the treat of RGG’s bassist having his compositions expressed by more sonic voices than the usual three. From “Versus”, the first track, the layering of the trombonist’s tell-tale plunger snarls and the trumpeter’s brassy shakes in high or low tones expands the coloration of Garbowski’s pieces that are influenced by contemporary Polish composition. At the same time since RGG has been a working group since 2001, the subtleties of the bassist’s grounded swirls, the positioned patterning from pianist Łukasz Ojdana and drummer Krzysztof Gradziuk unrushed but fluid power provide the squirming base upon which capillary explorations can take place.

Focal points of the action are “Coincidence” and “Sylabus”, the former concerned with tracking logical, yet unexpected detours from the main theme; and the latter with splitting the narrative into both Eastern-European parlance and near Blues sensibility. Ojdana’s key-fanning discursions and high-frequency vibrations plus Garbowski’s up-and-down string pumps contrapuntally challenge left-field fanfares from the trumpeter and emotional plunger tones from the trombonist on the first tune, reaching a final crescendo with high-pitched blustering blasts from Pohjola. Meanwhile on “Sylabus”, while the pianist’s Chick Corea-like high frequency kinetics and the drummer’s bass drum emphasis are sometime bit overwrought, Blaser’s low-pitched tongue fluttering and the trumpeter’s puffed grace notes stretch the theme into a rollicking groove that is confirmed by the pianist’s metronomic key trembling as the finale.

As leader or cooperative associate on these CDs, Blaser easily lives up to his status as a first class trombone voice.

—Ken Waxman

Personnel: Early: Wallace Roney (trumpet)*; Samuel Blaser (trombone); Oliver Lake (alto saxophone)+; Russ Lossing (piano Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, clavinet, Hammond B3, mini-moog)); Masa Kamaguchi (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums)

Track Listing: City: 1. Versus 2. Inception 3. Coincidence 4. Sylabus 5. Rarum

Personnel: City: Verneri Pohjola (trumpet); Samuel Blaser (trombone): Łukasz Ojdana (piano); Maciej Garbowski (bass) and Krzysztof Gradziuk (drums),