First published in 2018. Adding a twist of free improvisation to rumbling grooves, a style that has propelled Thunderblender into the spotlight enough to scoop up in rapid succession a brace of awards including the prestigious Toots Thielemans, their Irish leader Sam Comerford talks to marlbank about his band's feeling and passion
“When I was studying in Brussels with John Ruocco in 2014, I had been thinking about starting my own group for some time. Compositionally, I was quite inspired by Tim Berne’s approach to integrating writing and improvisation, and so it seemed natural to write for a bassless trio. I met Hendrik [Lasure, the Thunderblender pianist] at the conservatory, and it seemed like a great fit immediately. He was able to take my compositions, which can be dense and ugly at times, and make them into something personal and beautiful. Jens [Bouttery who is on drums and bass synth] I had never played with before the band. I saw him play a few times and loved what he was doing. They’re both great composers, very sensitive people, and I think that’s very important when you write in such an open way.
“The first time I played these compositions was in the Flemish Conservatory, in a quartet with Hendrik, for which I won the Toots Thielemans Award in 2015. A year later we played the first gig as Thunderblender in the Bravo, a great Brussels club which has since closed. Over the last two years we’ve played around Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and won a prize in the Tremplin d’Avignon competition in the summer. Since the first gig, the music has become more free and more tight at the same time. We can [take] more risks and play with the material more, as we’ve gotten to know how the compositions work. I’ve also been writing some new music which we hope to record by the end of this year.
“Last Minute Panic [their first EP released in the autumn] is a recording of our first live performance! As the music is quite improvised, I wanted to record it live in front of an audience. It was important to capture the feeling of risk and excitement. Manolo Cabras, a great double bassist based in Brussels, had been documenting what was happening in the city with live recording sessions at Bravo. Before the gig I wasn’t expecting to release it but I was very happy with the recordings, and Marco Giongrandi of Honolulu Records insisted on putting it out on their label. While the music sounds different every time, I’m still very happy with this record. By virtue of the members of the band, it’s a very joyous group to play in! We’re already played a lot in Belgium, so it will be a real pleasure to bring Jens and Hendrik to my country.
“Growing up, Charles Mingus was my introduction to jazz. The feeling in his music really moved me. When I started playing saxophone, I was really excited by Held on the Tips of Fingers, the Polar Bear record. I love the compositions of Tim Berne, he never takes the obvious route. I discovered Henry Threadgill relatively recently, his music is incredible. As a saxophone player, I’ll never get tired of the lyricism of Lester Young. Eric Dolphy, Lee Konitz and Chris Speed [who] were also big influences. Óskar Guðjónsson has the most beautiful sound I’ve heard live, I’m quite inspired by his approach.''
photo of Sam Comerford: Joris Lasure