©Brett Delmage, 2018
Drummer Peter Bruun and guitarist Marc Ducret in conversation in the Samuel Blaser Trio ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Samuel Blaser Trio
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Discovery Series
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Monday, June 25, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Samuel Blaser Trio played an hour of uncompromisingly avant-garde jazz in their Ottawa Jazz Festival show Monday evening. It was powerful and ingenious, but too often fragmented and unclear.

The Swiss-born Blaser, who now lives in Berlin, Germany, combined his expressive trombone playing with the astringent guitar work of Danish guitarist Marc Ducret and the intuitive and varied textures of Danish/American drummer Peter Bruun. Ducret has frequently played in Blaser's quartet, recording together in 2011 and 2012, while Bruun has played in Ducret's quartet.

This trio recently released a live album together, Taktlos Zurich 2017, and had just finished the 13-show American leg of their CD release tour. This was their first show in Canada, before heading off to the Toronto and Vancouver Jazz Festivals.

Their opening piece felt like an extended stutter. Short lines on trombone and guitar alternated in abstract patterns. They went off in all directions, not coalescing or continuing individually for long: popping trombone notes, fast guitar strums, muted trombone melodies, hard-edged guitar harmonics. Bruun responded with light touches on drums and cymbals, and then added a solo which built up from bright chiming to hard echoing sticks playing. But there didn't seem to be any central idea to the piece.

Throughout the concert, I liked individual bits of the performances: Blaser's deep, ominous growls on trombone which mutated into more fluid lines; Ducret's slapping and pulling his guitar strings to create percussive and bent notes; a fluid repeating riff on guitar melding with low melodic lines on trombone. Ducret created some fascinating vibrating and wavering effects with a metal slide and an electronic ebow, sounding at one point more like a theremin than a guitar.

Peter Bruun had just come from performing with British pianist Django Bates, and was more subdued than his two bandmates. Nevertheless, I enjoyed how his diverse and dynamic patterns on drums and cymbals fitted well in with the other musicians, even when the music changed abruptly.

It was a seriously hardcore performance, including alternating screeches and groans on trombone and guitar, loud guitar feedback a la Jimi Hendrix, and sessions of angry punctuated cacophony. The trio's closing piece, however, was quieter: opening with light brushes on cymbals, it moved to barely-there singing lines on trombone and guitar. Everyone cut loose in a fast and vibrating performance, and then slowed down again with deep muted trombone and fast flurries of guitar notes which developed into fast circles before ending abruptly – to warm and extended applause from the audience.

I really liked Blaser's previous show in Ottawa with Gerry Hemingway, but this show was different. Harsh tones predominated over melody, and even more importantly, didn't fit into an overall flow that I could detect. The musicians were clearly responding to each other – but not creating a cohesive whole. Definitely bold, definitely well-played, but too abrasive and austere for my taste.

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