Visiting Portland on Saturday night was a young trombonist who falls into the category of a jazz explorer.

Samuel Blaser, a native of Switzerland, surrounded himself with veteran players in a quartet performance that was alternately ethereal and edgy, intense and pensive – and fascinating from beginning to end.

The 34-year-old former Fulbright scholar brought along three band mates for the performance set in the acoustically friendly chapel at Woodfords Congregational Church. Pianist Russ Lossing and bassist Masa Kamaguchi have played in Dimensions in Jazz concerts in Portland before. But drummer Gerry Hemingway, who has reached legendary status for his years of work in the jazz avant-garde, was here for the first time in memory.

The concert consisted of two 40-minute pieces, suites of a sort, that evolved and permuted through focused solo and dynamic collective passages. There were some spacious stretches when even the slightest nuance proved eventful but only a few where fans of a more traditional approach could find familiar ground. The music changed often through various contexts, the players very alertly engaged.

Blaser employed an impressive technique, whether slowly developing ideas on his own during solos or responding to the other players. The trombonist was especially effective in his use of a mute to shape his sound, while his low growls and overtones also served to ground his clean, rapid-fire lines. He led from within, thoughtfully interacting with the others to bring themes forward.

Lossing, who often filled a role as catalyst in the leader’s group concept, added touches of percussiveness and dissonance that would help set the stage for the quartet’s more intense passages. He also would reach into the piano to deaden notes and occasionally struck the strings with a mallet. Elsewhere, his brief lyrical moments served to clear the musical palette for the next foray into abstraction.

Kamaguchi, bent low over his upright bass, provided a solid bottom, even including some walking lines at one point. But like the others, he was able to move easily into passages of collective improvisation, playing with sustained intensity over long periods.

Hemingway revealed a diverse approach to his drum kit, making extensive use of wire brushes as well as sticks and his bare hands. He also played on the edges and sides of his drumheads and cymbals to provide special effects and further contributed sounds via shakers as well as small wind instruments. The power of Hemingway’s playing came through strikingly when the band worked up to one of its several crescendos.

Not only through their intensity, the foursome consistently gave the impression of seeking ever-higher musical plateaus. One passage, a sort of lament, reduced the group sound to a slow pulse while another, near the end of the performance, brought on a sense of tranquility earned after an adventurous journey.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.