Samuel Blaser: Routes review – thrilling homage to a trombone icon

The Swiss musician’s tribute to the late Jamaican jazz and ska king Don Drummond is at once sinuous, sharp and sultry

Rarely an orchestral favourite, the trombone found a better home in jazz, where it was a mainstay of 1920s Dixieland, later finding a place with modernists such as Roswell Rudd and Delfeayo Marsalis. It further became a key instrument in 1960s Jamaican jazz and ska, thanks to the revered talents of Kingston’s Don Drummond, a pivotal but tragic figure whose life ended in mental health problems and an early death. Swiss trombone star Samuel Blaser is an admirer, and after finding a fellow fan in the festival director of Finland’s Tampere Jazz Happening, was commissioned to cut a tribute album. His band, drawn from both sides of the Atlantic and including British alto sax Soweto Kinch, proves a dauntingly tight unit.

Determined to “create our own musical world” rather than being a mere tribute band, Blaser brings an enticing approach to Drummond originals such as Silver Dollar, played in the sharp, urgent style of the Skatalites, and Green Island, with its sinuous arrangement for six (count ’em) ’bones. The instrumentals are augmented by two winning love calls by Carroll Thompson, erstwhile queen of lovers’ rock, where Blaser blows a blousy response to Thompson’s sultry vocals. For extras come a brace of dubs from the late Lee “Scratch” Perry, sparse and dadaist; the real thrill is in the playing.

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