Samuel Blaser Quartet - "Boundless Suite Part I" (Boundless)
Boundless is a triumph of casting. Samuel Blaser, the Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist who leads this date, has surrounded himself with players who can kick his ass, and sounds better for it. The spacious, unhurried performances on the preceding SBQ record, Pieces Of Old Sky, were pleasant, but never urgent. This record, on the other hand, maintains a low boil throughout its hour-long duration. Drummer Gerald Cleaver, a long-time Detroiter who is currently based in Brooklyn, supplies the heat with a relentless forward motion. Each bash at the cymbal, each circuit around the snare and toms seems oriented toward some horizon point, even when he solos. But he never rushes the music, either; there’s an inner clarity, a lack of clutter that leaves plenty of room for bassist Bänz Oester. The session’s other Swiss musician is likewise concerned with propulsion, but the quick, dancing quality of his lines often seems to dance around the drummer’s patterns, like a bantam-weight boxer using footwork to move in and out of engagement with a larger opponent.
But the real sparring takes place between Blaser and French guitarist Marc Ducret. Ducret has never been my favorite player; his combination of pedal swells and crunchy, rockish accompaniment is the banana peel upon which too many Tim Berne records of the past decade have slipped and fallen. Some of those same elements sound spot-on here; the contrasts between Ducret and Blaser generate a more complimentary friction. The slither in Ducret’s sustained licks matches Blaser’s fluidity of motion, and his stuttering solos jab toward Blaser with a focused aggression that brings to mind John McLaughlin’s playing opposite Miles Davis in the early 1970s.
Blaser, on the other hand, prefers grainy, curved lines to Miles’ clarion leads. And he likes his lines. Where someone like Jeb Bishop might respond to rambunctious accompaniment with atomization, Blaser keeps melodies clear and his variations as purposefully forward-facing as Cleaver’s. But he does lean into the music with greater vigor than he did on Pieces Of Old Sky. And where Ducret’s partnership with Berne has often sounded to me like a bit of a slugfest, the poise in Blaser’s playing gets me thinking once more of dance.