Thunderblender: Stillorgan review – Impressive debut from powerful trio

Fri, Oct 2, 2020, 05:00




W.E.R.F. Records


The title of saxophonist Sam Comerford’s debut album references his Dublin suburban childhood, which may suggest nostalgia. But his Brussels-based Thunderblender trio, plugged into the liberated, heterogeneous sounds of contemporary European improv, is anything but backward-looking.

Comerford (29), who has been based in the Belgian capital for the past decade, is part of a new generation of European creative musicians who are reaching beyond genre and crafting personal narratives that draw on everything high and low musical culture has to offer.

On one level, Stillorgan is an intensely personal record, a clear-eyed meditation on memory and upbringing from a musician who artfully balances technique and authentic emotion. But Thunderblender is much more than just a vehicle for Comerford’s compositions. The group’s excellent 2017 EP, Last Minute Panic, revealed a powerful trio with a finely honed ensemble sound, one born of empathy and mutual trust, veering from dense free improv to tender lyricism. Three years on, their first full-length release suggests that they’ve been anything but idle.

Pianist Hendrik Lasure’s thoughtful orchestral playing and drummer Jens Bouttery’s dense, intricate grooves are equal partners in an absorbing three-way conversation, and compliment Comerford’s lithe, big-hearted sound that connects him to a tradition stretching back to saxophonists like Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins. 

Mysterious and uplifting, Stillorgan is an impressive debut, a cinematic album that gives up its secrets slowly, its opaque ensemble textures suddenly clearing, like breaks in a stormy Dublin sky, to reveal moments of crystalline transparency.