At a time when more musicians are trying to be heard than ever before, rare gems like Samuel Blaser seem, paradoxically, to rise above it all. His new album Spring Rain, follows his 2013 recording – A Mirror to Machaut (Songlines Recordings) featuring pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Drew Gress and American drummer Gerald Cleaver. He has achieved rare prominence as one of his generation’s most wildly elegant and relentlessly forward-thinking trombonists.
Since his 2007 debut as a leader, 7th Heaven (Between the Lines), Blaser has grown at an almost incomprehensible rate, from a straight-ahead hard bopper in his mid-twenties to an innovative free player and ever-searching composer and bandleader in his early thirties, one whose improvisational strength has received praise from sources like Audiophile Audition, citing Blaser’s music as occupying “ambient/free jazz terrain that has a depth of vision and clarity revealing musical maturity beyond Blaser’s nearly three decades of life.”
Born and raised in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland – a lesser-known but no less significant jazz metropolis which was, for a time, home to expatriate Americans Sidney Bechet and Kenny Clarke, as well as Swiss jazz trombonist Raymond Droz – Blaser too has spent considerable time living in New York City and currently resides in Berlin. Beginning trombone lessons at the age of 9, he “couldn’t go past third position and had to have a trolley to carry trombone because it was too heavy,” says Blaser. Samuel is the second of three children and at home, was always surrounded by plenty of music ranging from Swiss folk music to American R&B and jazz. He progressed quickly, entering the local conservatory at 14 and graduated seven years later after receiving a number of awards in both the jazz and classical spheres, including the 2000 Benny Golson Prize.
Continuing private studies, Blaser began a number of significant associations, including with the heralded Vienna Art Orchestra and the European Radio Big Band, which led to a Fullbright scholarship enabling him to study in the United States at SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Music. He went on to win the J.J. Johnson Prize, as well as both the Public Prize and Jury’s Favorite Player awards at the 2006 Fribourg Jazz Festival.
Blaser’s impressive improvisational elan is predicated on instrumental mastery that is nothing more than the means to very musical ends. Together with his equally gifted quartet, Blaser continues to expand the purview of jazz, redefining it, in the new millennium as it enters its second century of existence.
Beyond his ability to combine knotty compositional form with incendiary improvisational prowess in the context of his own music, his unfettered yet ever-collaborative approach has resulted in a number of significant associations. These include his ongoing work with Swiss percussion legend Pierre Favre, 2013 tours in China with saxophonist Michael Blake and drummer Michael Sarin, recording and performances with New York based drummer Billy Mintz. Samuel has also shared the stage with trombonist David Taylor, bassist Michael Bates, drummer John Hollenbeck and pianist Hal Galper. It’s no surprise that Rene Laanen of USA Trombone Online called him “one of today´s finest trombonists.”
He tours regularly with two trios – one with guitarist Marc Ducret featuring Danish drummer Peter Bruun and the other with French pianist Benoit Delbecq and American drummer Gerry Hemingway. Until 2013, he toured frequently with his quartet Consort in Motion (Kind of Blue 2011, Songlines 2013) featuring pianist Russ Lossing, Belgian reed player Joachim Badenhorst, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Gerry Hemingway, who replaced Paul Motian following his death. Their recording “Consort in Motion”, married seemingly disparate elements of the Renaissance and Baroque eras with open-ended jazz improvisation. That album was praised in All About Jazz by Troy Collins as “fearlessly modern, yet respectfully regal.” Collins continues, asserting that “Blaser’s adventurous arrangements and reinterpretations offer the best of both worlds, enriching the raw impetuousness of avant-garde jazz with the proven sophistication of ageless classical forms. Consort in Motion is a high-water mark in the enduring lineage of the Third Stream, and all the more inspiring for the focus of its vision.”
With the upcoming release of his 9th album, Spring Rain, Samuel is reaping the rewards of trust, perserverance and camaraderie built with Lossing, Gress and Cleaver : over 40 dates in Europe and North America have already been scheduled for the quartet.
“The music on this album is quite different from my previous ones,” says Blaser. “Like the first Consort in Motion album, Spring Rain was directed by Robert Sadin and pays tribute to the late American saxophonist, clarinetist and composer, Jimmy Giuffre.”
Between recording and touring with his own groups and collaborating with other ensembles, Samuel Blaser’s career continues an upward trajectory that seems to have no end in sight. “The world of music fascinates me to no end, and I´m determined to take one journey after another with my instrument, and keep on working,” he says. “It´s all about discovery and communicating new ideas. Believe me, I know that I am proof that a shiny trombone can send a message right to your heart and change your life.”