Album reviews

Samuel Blaser: ‘Routes’  

Samuel Blaser: Routes  

(ENJA Yellowbird YEB7835. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

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Contemporary jazz often incorporates elements from other black music genres, e.g. hip hop, drum and bass and Afrobeat, but reggae and ska are less common.  In this joyful album, however, Samuel Blaser pays tribute to fellow trombonist Don Drummond (1934-1969), a founder member of The Skatalites.  Drummond was a pioneer of the ska movement and was highly regarded by American jazz musicians. J.J. Johnson travelled to Jamaica just to hear him play, and Delfeayo Marsalis wrote the introduction to Heather Augustyn’s 2013 biography of Drummond, The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist.

Samuel Blaser, more known as a contemporary jazz player, did not know of Drummond until he was given a tape of his music, but has become fascinated and absorbed by it.  In this album he not only pays tribute to Drummond, but also creates a very attractive mix of jazz and reggae.  Most of the tracks are played by a core group of Alex Wilson on piano and Hammond (also artistic director), Alan Weekes on guitar, Ira Coleman on bass, Soweto Kinch on alto sax and vocals, Michael Blake on tenor sax, Dion Parsons on drums and percussion, and Edwin Sanz on percussion.  They combine the characteristic back beat of reggae with added textures created by Wilson on the Hammond Organ and piano, the occasional vocal interventions from Soweto Kinch and the saxophone solos from Kinch and Michael Blake, and Blaser’s own trombone solos. 

Highlights include the three tracks of arrangements of Drummond tunes; Silver Dollar and Thoroughfare are  very much in the ska/reggae style with strong solos from Blaser.  Green Island, however, is very different: it features a 6-piece trombone choir playing over an African rhythm and interacting with Kinch’s spoken word contribution.   There are a couple of tracks featuring Lovers’ Rock vocalist Carroll Thompson, Rainy Days and Beautiful Bed Of Lies. The former is remixed in dub style by LeeScratch Perry as is the Green Island track.  These two tracks were recorded online before Lee Scratch Perry’s untimely death.

The publicity for the album alludes to a party atmosphere, and the music is undoubtedly great fun. And yet this is also a thoughtful and engaging tribute to Don Drummond (see link to liner essays below), bringing together the rhythms of ska and reggae with the textures of jazz.

LINK: Buy Routes

Samuel Blaser website

Liner essays by Heather Augustyn and Kevin Le Gendre

Routes will be released on 12 May 2023

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