Jamie Saft Quartet - Hidden Corners

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel – Jamie Saft: piano; Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Bradley Christopher Jones: acoustic bass; Hamid Drake: drums.

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The penchant for spiritual sounds evinced by keyboardist Jamie Saft is widely known, especially after a successful double release on RareNoise imprint last year: Solo a Genova and Blue. The novelty of his new album, Hidden Corners, is the musicians that follow him in this restorative, empyreal journey of musical discovery. Whereas bassist Bradley Christopher Jones continues in the rhythm section, the well-versed drummer Hamid Drake occupies the chair that belonged to Nasheet Waits. In the frontline, tenorist Bill McHenry gives his place to master saxophonist Dave Liebman, who extends the sonic possibilities with the addition of flute, tenor, and soprano.

Inspired by concepts from Jewish mysticism, the eight-track album makes a start with “Positive Way”, going toward the bandleader’s confession of faith in positivism. We find Jones bowing the bass with depth in a generous contribution for the overall splendor until he shifts technique to embark on an expressive pizzicato solo whose melodic paths amaze. With Drake driving the boat with pure love for rhythm and low-key expertise and Saft accompanying with the habitual efficacy, Liebman makes an astounding entrance, rising up above the ground with lines that simultaneously strike and breathe.

Asserting freedom, “Seven are Double” creates disengaged avant-jazz momentum with Liebman’s gutsy explorations and Saft’s episodic sweeping surges and intervallic leaps. The bass configurations engendered by Jones also soar with majestic grace.

The entrancing mood of Alice Coltrane is evoked on “Yesternight”, a 3/4 modal jazz tune where the bandleader imbues every detail with intention, denoting great sensitivity across the full range of the keyboard. His glorious chords add depth and counterpoint to Liebman’s luxuriant lyricism on the title track, a 12-bar blues whose amiable physiognomy makes us relax and enjoy its sounds with an open heart.

231 Gates” is a free-form exercise melodically driven by a whistling flute that confers it airier vibes, bringing to memory the first section of Pharaoh Sanders’ “Morning Prayer”. Conversely, “Turn At Every Moment”, propelled by Drake’s pensive cymbals and quiet drum work, elicits some intonational comparisons with Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”.

The program is completed with “Landrace”, offering a strenuous yet grooving bass solo upfront, an inexhaustible swinging tide for the soprano and piano statements, and a subtle Latin pulse by the time that Liebman re-enters to ensure completion.

Saft and his peers, besides dominating the genre inside-out, have an engrossing, ardent way of improvising. They are true masters in steering us toward these healing prayer-like pieces.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Positive Way ► 03 - Yesternight ► 08 - Landrace


Jamie Saft / Steve Swallow / Bobby Previte - You Don't Know The Life

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Jamie Saft: keyboards; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Bobby Previte: drums.

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What an amazing sound Jamie Saft exudes from the Baldwin electric harpsichord on “Re: Person I Knew”. Rocking and grooving like if Sun Ra had joined forces with Deep Purple, this fresh take on the Bill Evans’ tune welcomes you to You Don’t Know Life, the third effort of the keyboardist with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. The organ-centered album is a tempting combination of improvisations, standards, and Saft originals.

The three free improvisations almost don’t feel like such, considering that they naturally preserve backbone stability and follow a specific direction. “Dark Squares” is cooked patiently with nebulous synth chops at a medium-slow tempo. Sometimes noir, sometimes celestial, the tune has Saft choosing between long-held notes and staccato punctuation. “Breath From Water” flows steadily, suffused with Previte’s pervading drum timbres, which are even more authoritative on Roswell Rudd’s succinct “Ode To a Green Frisbee”. On the other hand, “The Break of the Flat Land” proves the less impetuous, more spacious of the three.

The effective bass/drums pairing provides a reliable structure, whether if the tune is tender, like the brushed waltzing “You Don’t Know the Life” by the psych-rock band Moving Sidewalks, or unnerving, such as Saft’s “The Cloak”, where soul music tries to fraternize with prog-rock, and its swinging continuation “Stable Manifolds”, which, after entering in the groovy territory of Jimmy Smith and Dr. Lonnie Smith, ends with caustic chromatic movements. Closing out the album in a low-key style are two standards, “Moonlight in Vermont” and “Alfie”.

This disc is a solid, accessible offering. It doesn't particularly feel like a shift in mindset, but rather a fun sculptural exploration of the organ trio format.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Re: Person I Knew ► 02 - Dark Squares ► 06 - The Cloak


Jamie Saft Quartet - Blue Dream

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel – Bill McHenry: saxophone; Jamie Saft: piano; Bradley Christopher Jones: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Exposing valuable technical skills and a lyricism of his own, Jamie Saft is one of the sharpest pianists working today. His second release of the year, following the grandiose and haunting Solo a Genova, is entitled Blue Dream, an illuminated work where transcendence is achieved through the creation of absolutely glorious emotional soundscapes. For this session, the artist brings together an astounding quartet with saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Bradley Christopher Jones, and drummer Nasheet Waits, all of them supportive teammates and top-flight improvisers.

Vessels”, a pure modal jazz inspiration, conveys an unmitigated spirituality through the divine harmonic progressions. Besides the beautiful collective work, McHenry, in an act of pure instinct and inspiration, offers an inside-outside prayer in the line of Archie Sheep, Pharaoh Sanders, and Billy Harper. The meditative “Infinite Compassion” also follows the same steps, presenting us transfixing piano voicings with a few sweeps and swirls reminiscent of Alice Coltrane, while the eruptive “Words and Deeds” is stirred and shaken by the tremendous force of McHenry’s searing lines.

Submerged in a soulful, blues-based post-bop, “Equanimity” starts with Waits’ impeccable rhythmic facility, proceeding with Coltrane-inspired saxophone phrases, and landing on Saft's rich patterns replete with cascading notes, congruous runs, and occasional motivic inflections over a swinging bass-drums workflow. Forming an unfading alliance, Jones and Waits swing hard again on the title track, even with Saft exploring calmly in an opposite direction, and also intermittently on “Decamping”, a straightforward post-bop exercise. Both tunes feature enthusiastic bass solos.

The quartet ascends into heaven on “Sword’s Water”, a feverish splendor containing dense and contrasting low/high-toned piano maneuvers, bursting saxophone lines uttered with authority, taciturn arco bass, and abundant cymbal activity.

The evanescence on the spacious “Walls” is caused by dark classical piano moves and mournful bowed bass, while “Mysterious Arrangements” carries a slightly Latin touch in the rhythm. The group's versatility is taken further with the addition of three jazz standards gently propelled by Waits’ understated brushwork - the blithe “Violets for Furs”, the solo-less “Sweet Lorraine”, and the mellifluous “There’s a Lull In My Life”. Even conjuring a familiar feel, they never sound decontextualized in regard to the whole.

Impressively executed with great feeling, Blue Dream makes you plunge into aurally transparent sonic waters that open your soul, clear your mind, and more than satisfy your ears. Saft’s music touches me deeply and it feels awesome to be enveloped by his voluble and devotional reverberations.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite tracks:
01 - Vessels ► 02 - Equanimity ► 03 - Sword’s Water


Jamie Saft - Solo A Genova

Label: RareNoise Records

Personnel – Jamie Saft: piano.

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Solo a Genova, the first solo album in 25 years by pianist Jamie Saft, a blistering figure in the art of playing the keyboard, is actually something special.
To better face the political instability in the US, the pianist resorted to originals and a number of American songs, in an attempt to resist hatred and negativity through art. Showing a strong affinity for disparate musical genres and operating a 9-foot Steinway Model D piano for a grandiose sound, Saft designs astonishing soundscapes with biting audacity and infallible inspiration.

He takes off on a soulful voyage that has its first landing on “The Makings Of You”, a soul hit by Curtis Mayfield, where he induces a greater emotional force than the original itself. Yet, nothing compared to the splendor achieved with “Human/Gates”, a lyrical rubato exercise that seamlessly melds Human League’s ‘80s synthpop song “Human” with “Gates”, a composition of his own. The relentless work on the lower register in coalescence with far-reaching sweeps on the last two-thirds of the keyboard is even more accentuated on “Naima”, an unforgettable introspective rendition of the Coltrane’s classic. Another jazz masterpiece in the lineup is “Blue in Green”, so many times delivered since it saw the daylight in 1959, but thriving here with a unique touch of brilliance.

Attaining homogeneity with the whole, “The New Standard/Pinkus” packages two originals previously recorded by the keyboardist. The former, finding hope through a melodious crossing between Bill Evans and Brad Mehldau, appeared on Swallow/Saft/Previte’s album of the same name (RareNoise, 2014), while the latter is a recital on how to fuse modal jazz, American folk, blues and classical, which appeared on Borscht Belt Studies (Tzadik, 2011), New Zion Trio’s Chaliwa (Veal Records, 2013), and Swallow/Saft/Previte’s Loneliness Road (RareNoise, 2017).

While Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” feels thankful and illuminated, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”, despite the abstraction of its first minutes, feels more like a spiritual hymn provided with classical routines and epic harmonic turnarounds rather than a rock smasher.

The pianist also plunges into the aesthetic traditions of American folk-rock with very personal renditions of tunes by Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. He maintains the humor on the latter’s “Po’ Boy”, which brims with bluesy lines and honeyed popular charisma.

Tossing passing notes with pinpoint accuracy to better express his nimble pianistic movements, Saft pays a beautiful homage to American music through a work that sheds light on the depth of his talent.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Naima ► 04 – Sharp Dressed Man ► 07 – The New Standard/Pinkus