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Samuel Blaser Quartet: As the Sea

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Doubt not that As the Sea is a demanding recording. If you do, the eight and a half minutes “Part 1” takes to get anywhere will dispel you of that doubt quickly. There are pleasures to be found on trombonist Samuel Blaser’s four-part work; the finding is the challenge, buried as those delights are among long stretches of quiet that go past subtle and into inaudible.

It’s fairly simple logic: The record ebbs and flows (hence its title). Parts 1 and 3 are soft and lethargic; 2 and 4 loud, kinetic and groove-centered. Blaser and bassist Bänz Oester build “Part 2” on a stomping, funky riff. Though Blaser and guitarist Marc Ducret’s subsequent solos are atonal, the funk groove-now sustained by Gerald Cleaver’s crash cymbals-renders them digestible. “Part 4” begins with an unaccompanied Blaser lick that he repeats over an elusive, Threadgill-like rhythm matrix from the others. It creates a distinctive rhythmic feel that becomes the soloists’ (again, Blaser and Ducret) and listeners’ guidewire, even without melodic or harmonic footholds.

But then there are Parts 1 and 3. Those opening eight-plus minutes sound for all the world like the band tuning up before show time (As the Sea was recorded live in Belgium). That section and “Part 3” begin with barely audible thrums from Oester and develop into vague, noodly shapes. (Maddeningly, Ducret’s most intense playing, in “Part 3,” occurs with his amp at minimal volume.) Still, they’re oddly compelling at times, and build tension. Perhaps inaudible and inscrutable have their place too.

Originally Published