Click here to [close]

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jamie Saft Quartet - Blue Dream (RareNoiseRecords, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Blue Dream is the debut album from the Jamie Saft Quartet, featuring Saft on piano, Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Bradley Christopher Jones on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and sound engineer Jamie Saft is likely the most well-known of the quartet, having been a fixture of the American underground since the mid-nineties or so. His massive back catalogue includes not only his solo work, but collaborations with John Zorn, Wadada Leo Smith, Nick Millevoi, and Joe Morris to name a few. The phenomenal New York saxophonist Bill McHenry also leads his own quartet and has collaborated with the likes of Hamid Drake, Paul Motian, and Andrew Cyrille. Bradley Christopher Jones has worked with Marc Ribot, Elvin Jones, Ornette Coleman, and is a member of Vibes with Bill Ware and EJ Rodriguez. Nasheet Waits (son of the great Freddie Waits) has played with Jason Moran, William Parker, John Medeski, and leads the Nasheet Waits Equality Quartet. This album finds the quartet gliding through a fantastic set of originals and standards with elegance, passion, and capability.

The album kicks off with Vessels finding the group winding up behind Saft’s lumbering chord progression and McHenry’s light tenor sax tones. The rhythm section keeps a steady unadorned time, until the midpoint at which Waits lets loose a fury of rolls and cymbal shimmer and the pace quickens, the saxophone soloing wildly over the upswing in intensity. Equanimity begins with Waits’ rustling percussion solo, the rest of the band jumping in at about a minute and thirty seconds. Jones plucks out a romping bassline and Saft takes an extended solo to which McHenry adds the occasional honk or odd lick. Sword’s Water presents precipitous sax runs and squall over turbulent piano and the rumble of the rhythm section. For the quartet’s first standard of the collection they offer a rich interpretation of Frank Sinatra’s Violets for Your Furs, with Saft proving the platform for the band’s airy retelling of the melody in the style of Coltrane’s classic quartet. The title track Blue Dream bursts from the gates with an up-tempo beat and walking bassline. Saft adds measured chords and runs as the song bobs along, McHenry only appearing during the last minute to harmonize with Saft. Infinite Compassion rolls to life in the same manner as Sword’s Water, however after about a minute the theme is stated by Saft which segues into the main melody and we are treated to powerful solos by McHenry.

The second half of the records starts with another standard, this time Sweet Lorraine, made famous by Nat King Cole. The classic is given a terrific rendition here; McHenry’s tone is warm and soft, his playing reflective. The moody Walls follows, beginning with Saft rolling sustained chords over Jones’ lines of arco. Waits adds cymbal shimmer as McHenry traces the shapes produced by Saft and offers subtle counterpoint. Decamping presents a stout reprised melody, the sax and bass both offering brief vamps in between which nicely frame the piece. The song has some serious bounce to it and offers a nice change-up to the more moody preceding and proceeding pieces. Words and Deeds returns us to the bottom of the ocean with a gorgeous piano motif over taut rhythms. Jones displays some terrific pizzicato runs which segue into a husky and potent solo by McHenry. Mysterious Arrangements begins with a wash of piano and percussion, the saxophone pleading somberly. The bass switches up the rhythm and the song turns into an undulating piano suite. The album is closed with There’s a Lull in My Life, Mack Gordon and Harry Revel’s ballad from the 1937 movie Wake Up and Live that is given an extended treatment by the quartet including soft piano and airy sax lines over barely there percussion and a deep bobbing bass line.

This is fairly conventional jazz by this blog’s standard, which isn’t meant as a detractor just as a bit of information for the reader. Perhaps it doesn’t break any new ground but the songs and sequencing are stellar and the playing is superlative. I’ve been really enjoying this record and have given it multiple spins. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, this being a Jamie Saft record after all, but I like this direction and I think this is a really great band he’s assembled. Blue Dream, in addition to his recent (and equally great) solo piano album Solo A Genova, find Saft releasing some very compelling music this year.