Curiosity opens doors for trombonist Samuel Blaser
One puzzling detail keeps coming up in the online reviews of Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser: his supposedly “spectral” approach to music.
This stumps him, too. Spectral, in the context of sound, has little to do with the supernatural: instead, it refers to a recent compositional tendency involving the mathematical analysis and manipulation of timbre. As a composition student, Blaser is familiar with pioneering spectralists Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. But on the line from his home in Berlin, he stresses that their work has little to do with his.
“Spectral also means that the music is based on natural harmonics, and my music doesn’t sound like that,” he says. “So I think [those critics] were thinking about space—about using space and letting the music breathe, instead of filling all the space and having something very busy.”
Think spacious, then. That’s an approach well suited to the trombone—which, as Blaser notes, “can’t play that many notes, in comparison to the guitar or the clarinet”. In saying that, he might be making sly reference to the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, during which he’ll perform with guitarists Marc Ducret and Gordon Grdina, as well as with clarinetist François Houle’s new 5 + 1 band.
His association with Ducret dates back to 2006, and it’s been a productive one. “He’s amazing,” Blaser reports. “He’s pushed me to create some new sounds, to imitate the guitar. And the funny thing is, he really likes trombone, so sometimes I can hear some trombone in his guitar. It’s really interesting to collaborate with him.”
Houle is a relatively recent associate, but the assured and surprisingly accessible music heard on his sextet’s debut, Genera, suggests that he and Blaser have an easy and intuitive rapport. As for the trombonist’s other Vancouver playing partner, Grdina, the connection is so new that, as of press time, the two had neither met nor exchanged notes on what they’re going to play.
“I’m waiting for some music, actually,” the trombonist says with a laugh. “I emailed him today and said, ‘Hey, I think we’re going to play together?’ But it’s good: this way you meet new people, and sometimes it gives some other possibilities, or it opens other doors.”
Curiosity, then, is one of Blaser’s key characteristics, whether he’s venturing into uncharted terrain, performing in tight-knit ensembles, or investigating the links between contemporary music and the Renaissance, as he did on his highly regarded albums Consort in Motion and Boundless. This weekend, it will serve him well.
Samuel Blaser will appear with the Gordon Grdina Trio at Ironworks at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday (June 30), with Marc Ducret at the Roundhouse Performance Centre at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday (July 1), and with François Houle 5 + 1 at Ironworks at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday (July 1) as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.