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Monday, July 28, 2014

Jamie Saft: Plymouth & The New Standard

By Paul Acquaro

Two new recordings from RareNoise show quite different sides of the playing of keyboardist Jamie Saft. Deep dark organ on one and a modern jazz piano approach on the other.

Plymouth - Plymouth (RareNoise, 2014) ****½

It would probably be incorrect to call either of these recordings a Jamie Saft album, as they are both strong group efforts, but his keyboard work is the connective tissue between them both.

The first recording is Plymouth, a great set of dense improvised music from an exciting quintet of musicians. The first tune, 'Manomet', propelled by organ, is a force of nature. The tandem guitar work of Joe Morris and Mary Halvorson ratchet up the intensity as drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Chris Lightcap give track a living and breathing pulse.  In a way, I hear this first song as fusion in the Tony Williams Lifetime vein, or even early Weather Report with more bite. The intensity that it achieves is just excellent.

Track two, ‘Plymouth', starts with a rumble from the lower end of the electric piano, but a third of the way through, we begin hearing the organ creep in along with a heavy beat and fuzzed out and pitch bent lines from the guitars. Track three, 'Standish', clocking in at 30 minutes, is slower to build. Distinct sections emerge with stronger back beats, or guitars creating suspense, ending with a straight ahead jazz-rock climax. With the three tracks spread out over an hour, there's a lot to listen to.

It you're looking for the individual and distinctive stylistics of Morris and Halvorson, this isn't the place. If you are looking for a dense patch of hot steamy musical tar festooned with thorny rose stems to roll in, you're home.

Give a listen here.

Saft/Swallow/Previte- The New Standard (RareNoise, 2014) ***½

A real about face from the aforementioned Plymouth, the New Standard’s piano trio approach is melodic, rhythmic, and very accessible. Each song suggestive of an arch-typical jazz standard, but at same time there is something unique and slightly subversive happening.

Saft's piano, Steve Swallow's bass guitar and Bobby Previte's drumming equally 'steal' the show. Track one, ‘Olivine', kicks off with a straight ahead swing. You hear the changes coming, you anticipate the beat, and can feel the bass walking, and according to the press, that's what this album is all about - a straightforward session with simple charts, recorded to analog tape in Saft's upstate NY studio.  The sound is rich, the playing is loose but flawlessly so, and the tunes are, well, tunes and have a somewhat familiar vibe to them even as they are original in their delivery and feel. Saft busts out the Hammond on ‘Pasture', a laid back jazz hymn that dates you not to feel something. The following track ‘Scrapes' is back to the piano where the minor melody is driven by a restrained march-like pulse.

The whole album feels comfortable in an exciting way. The songs have a familiar feel and even somewhat identifiable melodies, however, none that you have heard before. It’s not free jazz, but it’s highly enjoyable!

Give a listen here.