Jamie Saft continues his collaboration with eclectic UK-based label RareNoiseRecords in 2018. On a roll after releasing his first ever solo piano album in January, the aptly named 'Solo A Genova', the Upstate New York-based artist presents a further facet of his seemingly boundless talent for composition, performance, invention and in this case, for acting as master of ceremonies to a group of exciting and innovative musicians. His latest formation, the Jamie Saft Quartet sees repeated collaborators, celebrated saxophonists Bill McHenry and bassists Bradley Christopher Jones as well as in rising star of the drums Nasheet Waits.
Recorded in the Autumn of 2017 in Jamie Saft's Potterville International Sound studio Upstate New York, co-produced by Saft and Chris Castagno, mixed and mastered by Chris Castagno in Colombia, Blue Dream showcases nine new vibrant, spiritual and energetic compositions by Jamie Saft, as well as three mesmerizing standards. The album will be released on 29th June and will be available on CD, double vinyl and digital download.
Plenty of connotations emerge in the album title, yet as soon as you start listening you will realize, that Blue Dream won't allow you to think about connotations. This is direct. The muscle is shown straight away in "Vessels," and not just in the playing but the tone: dark, with four musicians moving like ships in the night, a tenor sax echoing over the water between them. That's saxman Bill McHenry, and stirring the water beneath him is drummer Nasheet Waits, splashing into the basswaves of Brad Jones bellowing up, heavy and low. On the piano, Jamie Saft both holds it down and works in new melodies, like clouds in a rotation of sunlight and darkness. Blue Dream moves. "Equanimity" keeps it fast - punk jazz fast. The drums lead it off, and you get the feeling the other musicians aren't coming in until Waits lets them in. They know to hold off. The vibe into which Waits swings himself is a tunnel for one, only breaking daylight a minute and half into the song, when everybody explodes together at once in the record's biggest and brightest moment yet. But "Sword's Water" brings it back into the low light, opening with a hot flourish that swirls on for two minutes before Saft begins to follow the melody down one of his paths. Saft can slide effortlessly over the keys, to be sure, but it is when he lingers, teasing out perhaps the same several notes, that we get a sense of the restraint in place.
This sounds like a record of standards-yes, new standards-but there are only three oldies on here ... and they're goodies. Sinatra's "Violets For Your Furs" is the first, setting the second of this album's four sides alive with an interpretation that finds Saft digging into the melody as only its patent simplicity allows (there's that restraint again). Following that, Brad Jones finds room cleared out for him in the title track to pluck his heaviest path, accelerating through the heart of the record while Saft drifts overhead, clouds over boiling water. "Infinite Compassion"shoulders its way back into those big dark movements on the piano, both sustaining and running away past the margins wherever it is needed.
The second half of the album kicks off with Bill McHenry cooling it down, and he does it through "Sweet Lorraine," Cliff Burwell's 1928 standard recorded by the King Cole Trio in 1940, which is the version taught to Saft by the late Geri Allen. Some 90 years later it's a vehicle strong enough to summon a breeze into the whole second half of the album, carving out abundant room for "Walls." Building on the big air of "Sweet Lorraine," Saft goes off into outer space without a care in the world, and all of them ride out the vibe. Saft can flourish and arpeggiate with the best of them, but it's in his open spaces that he shows he can be sometimes shy, sometimes flirtatious, but always confident-quietly-and relaxed. That is the foundation on which the musicians around him can build, with Saft then almost pleading with them to follow him into uncharted territories.
Then there's the drums. Waits has both a shimmer and a modern architecture to his playing, the latter of which has him building a chess board in "Decamping,"where the band can check one another, trading on, trading off. Who's got the end game? We don't need to know. We only know they enjoy the field. The music nourishes the life beneath their feet. "Words And Deeds" feels like something by which each of them is living, expressing it through this music, right now, while "Mysterious Arrangements" furthers the language created by this quartet, bringing it into a new conversation that is obviously holding some tension in its palms.
You'll be relieved to know that tension all gets worked out in the end. Closing out the record is the 1937 Mack Gordon and Harry Revel classic "There's a Lull In My Life,"blissfully stretching out the last seven minutes of the album like a long holiday party full of old faces. Memories abound of the song's place in jazz history, and the voices that interpreted it in years past: Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Tony Bennett, Alice Faye, and Nat King Cole. The standard torch song, love ballad, classic, becomes buoyant in their hands. It does not wallow, but revels in its ache. Shouldn't we all?
3. Sword's Water
4. Violets For Your Furs
5. Blue Dream
6. Infinite Compassion
7. Sweet Lorraine
10. Words and Deeds
11. Mysterious Arrangements
12. There's a Lull In My Life