Record of the month: “Spring Rain” by Samuel Blaser

Samuel Blaser's Spring RainBlaser trills and sways with a wonderful, inebriated tone
Samuel’s opening notes of ‘Jesus Maria’ emit a tone of skewed warmth, imperfect but aglow. What follows is an almost heartbreaking conversation between Blaser, Russ Lossing whose piano notes fall as clear spring raindrops, and the ghostly double bass of Drew Gress. Gerald Cleaver locks into this sensitivity brushing drums or rustling cymbals and I drifted into a meditation that I didn’t want to leave. It’s a gorgeous piece written by Carla Bley and was featured on the Jimmy Giuffre 3‘s album Fusion, 1961. Spring Rain is a tribute to Giuffre, specifically his now-revered, explorative work with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow and combines covers with original compositions in a conducive listen.

Lossing makes the difference in ‘Missing Mark Suetterlyn’: as Blaser trills and sways with a wonderful, inebriated tone, Russ brings the double joy of piano and keyboards (he plays Minimoog, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer on this album). His electronic runs and chord stabs funk it up, space it out and take us into a thrilling, lawless landscape. All the time Cleaver is finding off-beats with laudable subtlety; he’s finely integrated but always notable.

A warm ’60s jazz homecoming
This track leads straight into the lucid melody of ‘Temporarily’ (another Carla Bley composition). There’s a sense of the recognisable here, like a warm ’60s jazz homecoming. Blaser hits the spot in the way a trumpet can – with soulful, cool sensibilities. Spring Rain has been directed by Robert Sadin, a classical conductor (a vital point as there are flavours of classical expressionism in Blaser’s playing) who also arranged and produced output such as Gershwin’s World by Herbie Hancock. From the musical themes to the sequencing, this feels a quality production.

I adored Blaser’s short solo ‘Homage’, its romantic grief like a modernist ‘Last Post’. If it was played with Blaser’s late manager, Izumi Uchida in mind, I can’t think of a more touching goodbye. ‘The First Snow’ is a free-for-all improv that again shows how this quartet is greater than the sum of its parts. They entangle themselves yet create space for ideas to breathe a fresh air.

Blaser: “Beautiful melodies and no boundaries”
If I’m honest I don’t find the trombone an easy listen, but the combination, especially with Lossing’s exquisite electronic touches, creates both an engaging tension and harmony. Blaser says, “I want people to know that there is jazz, blues, classical music, beautiful melodies and no boundaries,” and maybe that’s why I like this album. However I also think taking Guiffre as inspiration has given Blaser permission to incorporate five interpretative covers as well as provide a fertile direction for composing.

The Giuffre 3 are now recognised for their crucial contribution to free jazz, but disbanded in 1962 after the avant-garde album Free Fall and a gig where they earned 35 cents each. I’m certain there are quite a few musicians out there now who can relate to that.

Spring Rain will tour in November and December 2015.
Whirlwind Recordings

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