Humair, Blaser, Känzig: Our Way

Veteran Swiss drummer Humair is joined by his trombone and bass compatriots in a set ranging through folk, Thelonious Monk and ragtime

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At the time of this recording in 2022, Daniel Humair was 84. In the 1950s and 60s, Humair accompanied American expatriates such as Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker and Eric Dolphy. The ensuing years, the Swiss drummer developed into a figurehead of the European avant-garde.

Coincidentally, it was only last week that I was blown away by his drumming on the live performance in Paris in 1968 by Trio HLP featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and organist Eddy Louiss. Nowadays, Humair forms a trio with trombonist Samuel Blaser and bassist Heiri Känzig, an all-Swiss outfit. I was unfamiliar with Blaser and Känzig until Our Way fell on the doormat. It certainly is a rewarding discovery.

Our Way follows up the trio’s debut 1291 from 2020. Intriguing music – free but melodic and at times humorous; and at times solemn and stately, as if they are playing at a remembrance ceremony for fallen soldiers. This solemnity pervades Humair’s folksy line IRA (like, the IRA?) and epic Genevamalgame, a layered evocation of saudade and one of several performances seemingly inspired by the classic Ornette Coleman quartet, well done and out of the ordinary though, admittedly, at times leaving me a bit lost in the woods.

Traditional folk tunes, Thelonious Monk and ragtime make up for wildly diverse repertoire. Humair’s almost childlike simplicity is contagious, his phrasing and colouring effective and imaginative, which instantly makes me realise the resemblance between Humair’s aesthetic and the outlook of his peer, the Dutch impro legend Han Bennink, perhaps not surprisingly because both have reshaped American jazz (drumming) history into a markedly European style. In contrast to the commonly overpowering Bennink, Humair keeps the volume at a low level, subtly highlighting the buttery, big sound of Blaser.

Blaser is an exceptional trombonist, growling (and using multiple techniques such as double-tonguing) through vamps and Ellingtonia and waxing lyrical in the land of sweet and sour. Känzig’s flexible bass functions as the third lead voice, not least during his intense bowed feature on Blaser’s Hook, a sardonic reference, of sorts, to Dizzy Gillespie’s Salt Peanuts.

Träume Der Liebe (the vernacular ranges from French, Italian to German, indicating Switzerland’s multi-cultural make-up) is a gem. Not knowing the lyrics, I have no clue of the love song’s content. However, the trio’s take tells me it’s more about a fellow sadly waving bye-bye to a dame on the quay than standing at the altar declaring “Yes, I do.” The dark-hued imagery of this bare-naked display of ’bone, bass and “la batterie” doesn’t allow for your average happy endings.

Discography
Ira; Jackie-Ing; Mazurka; Heiri’s Idea; Genevamalgame; Chara Lingua De La Mama; Tiger Rag; Warming Up; Bemsha Swing; Root Beer Rag; Hook; Creole Love Call; Träume Der Liebe (52.04)
Daniel Humair (d); Samuel Blaser (tb); Heiri Känzig (b); Lugano, 26 & 27 September 2022.
Blaser Music BM012CD