Samuel Blaser interview

From 2018. Paying tribute to the Skatalites’ Don Drummond led by brilliant Swiss improviser SAMUEL BLASER on trombone and a band of all-stars who include Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson, recently in action with the Bansangu Orchestra, Blaser explains …

Published: 25 Dec 2019. Updated: 6 months.

From 2018. Paying tribute to the Skatalites’ Don Drummond led by brilliant Swiss improviser SAMUEL BLASER on trombone and a band of all-stars who include Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson, recently in action with the Bansangu Orchestra, Blaser explains the origins of the project

“I decided to form this band after a talk with Juhamatti Kauppinen, a ska, dub and reggae lover for whom I recorded some trombone for his latest release on Playground, at the Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland. I told him my dream was to pay tribute to Don Drummond. He booked the the idea right away and offered to perform at his festival in November 2019. I am still super-excited about it and can’t believe it’s happening!

“At that time I was starting to perform regularly with bassist Ira Coleman who was by the way a member of Ernest Ranglin’s band. He’s the first member to have joined my group. Then Ira recommended me to get in touch with Dion Parson who will be on drums and Alex Wilson, a British keyboardist living in Switzerland who connected me to Soweto Kinch and Alan Weekes — Alex and Soweto were in Ernest’s band too. Michael Blake and I have been playing together for many years. We share the same love for that music. It was all natural for me to ask him to join the band.”

“I have always played and listened to Jamaican music. I used to be a member of a well-known reggae band when I was 16-years-old. Since then I have been a regular session player for several productions with musicians like Spahni the LKJ, Lee Perry and Dennis Bovell drummer. I have always been dreaming about starting such a project but never found the right opportunity.”

“Don Drummond's playing was really unique and his music is still very mysterious to my ears full of imagination and tradition. What an incredible sound: Slightly out of tune; great lines and ideas; super melodic. Voted best trombone by Downbeat in the 1950s. Don himself used to think he was the best trombonist on earth although he never really travelled outside of Jamaica. Trombonists like JJ Johnson did travel to Kingston to hear him. I am not sure it’s true but I like to think that way.”

“Right before moving to New York in 2005, a friend of mine in Switzerland gave me a tape and told me to listen carefully to Don D. I didn’t know who he was back then. Since then I have been listening to that tape a thousand times and I am still discovering new stuff in there. It’s amazing how rich this music is. To my knowledge I don’t think anyone else has really paid tribute to the trombonist except for Rico Rodriguez and that was right after Don Drummond's death. Rico, who was one of Don’s protégés and whom I unfortunately met only once, used to travel to my hometown very often — his dentist was there. He used to play with local bands too.”

“What actually interests me is to personalise Don’s music with the talent of my band members and deliver a different vision/approach. The sound is still in my head. I need to sit down and take the time to imagine the music. I am also considering including other people music like Count Ossie (Don D was going to the Wareika Hills to play drums with him) from an album called Tales Of Mozambique. Alex Wilson will be helping me to build a nice programme!”

Samuel Blaser photo, Alex Troesch.

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Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, Pi

From 2013. This is a very compassionate and "real" album, and concentrates on stories that need telling over and over again. Drawing on the dreams and recollections of “veterans of colour” who fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is the …

Published: 25 Dec 2019. Updated: 6 months.

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From 2013. This is a very compassionate and "real" album, and concentrates on stories that need telling over and over again. Drawing on the dreams and recollections of “veterans of colour” who fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is the most considered and powerful of pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/MC/lyricist Mike Ladd’s work to date. Possibly not as caustic and challenging as 2003’s acclaimed In What Language, but more taut and at times moving, the piece was commissioned and premiered at Harlem Stage in New York.

Ladd and theatre director Patricia McGregor interviewed veterans about what they actually want out of life, but also about how they deal in their quiet near-sleeping moments about the experiences that haunt them. So, in effect, the album is about trauma and conscience and the aftermath of war, the coming to terms with the horror of what all these veterans went through.

Recorded a few months before the live performance last autumn the written contributions and vocals of Maurice Decaul, who served with the Marines in Iraq, and Air Force servicewoman Lynn Hill, who piloted drones in Afghanistan from a far remote US base, are at the heart of an album powered by a band that includes hip-hop drummer Kassa Overall (also known for his work with Geri Allen), cellist Okkyung Lee, guitarist Liberty Ellman, and vocalist Guillermo E. Brown.

Ladd’s voice has a compelling authority to it throughout while Iyer, who has written all the music and also plays Fender and uses Ableton Live processing effects, is found in a very different context to his solo records as the structures are more like expansive well designed hip hop-friendly songs you'd hear on the radio with the improvising here and there peeking through on a track such as the affecting ‘Requiem for an Insomniac’. Lynn Hill’s role is vital and on a track such as ‘Capacity’ the anger boiling up explodes in one of the most hard-hitting tracks. It’s an album about "dreaming in colour" that the nightmare can end somehow and that ‘normalcy’ and peace can prevail; and yet that hope may well be in vain or at best remains unresolved. Clearly the healing has not yet begun. SG