A combination of rare events in this circumstance. A trombone-led ensemble, not exactly a common happening, and my complete, possibly indefensible lack of knowledge in regard to the four musicians who form the quartet: leader Samuel Blaser, guitarist Todd Neufeld, double bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. One never ends learning, indeed.
The music in Pieces Of Old Sky is sombre, brooding, rarely moving out of a shadowy zone where the attempts of eliciting a faint smile get frustrated by heavy pensiveness and crawling dejection. Blaser’s acoustic personality results quite preponderant; perhaps not really him as a soloist but the trombone itself, especially given a not overly extensive palette. The focal melodies are at times near-memorisable (“Mandala” peculiarly recalling “It Ain’t Necessarily So”), somewhere else they zigzag a little, unfolding in reasonably complicated fashion according to an acceptable degree of atonality.
There is room for further excursion, though: Morgan’s bass, directly related to the main instrument in terms of frequency adjacency, is a reassuring presence whose affirmations are defined by the paucity of notes played rather than their geometric disposition. Both Neufeld and Sorey prefer instead to remain at the edges of interventionism, spreading a barely visible powder over the instrumental tissue through emaciated figurations and merely hinted patterns that fade away almost instantly, typically encouraging Blaser’s return to a thematic home of sorts.
Although it’s difficult to talk about “enthusiasm” after having listened to this album, the mood it creates is, if you pardon the oxymoron, uniquely familiar. Essentially, what emerges is the strength of a well-behaved group, a collective aptitude tinted by the authoritative, immediately identifiable timbre of its mild-mannered boss. A finely regulated democracy where everybody knows who is in command, and is all the more happy for that.