Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Jerome Sabbagh | Heart

Analog Tone Factory announces the release of Heart, tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh’s tenth album as a leader and his first on the newly formed label he runs with pianist and engineer Pete Rende. Heart is due on CD, vinyl, and reel-to-reel August 30, with digital downloads available October 11. Three singles are planned as well: “ESP,” on July 19; “Lead the Way,” August 30; and “Heart,” October 11. 

A consequential, galvanizing presence on the New York scene since the early 2000s, Paris native Sabbagh is a compelling tenor and soprano saxophonist, bandleader, and producer. Heart documents an elegant, creative encounter with the iconic drummer Al Foster and esteemed New York bassist Joe Martin. 

“Al is my favorite living jazz drummer, and I’ve been trying to record with him for a long time,” says Sabbagh. “Over the last 12 years I’ve sat in on gigs with him and developed a rapport that finally came to fruition with this album. 

“Joe and I started playing together around 2003, and I’ve played with him more than any other bassist over the years. He can do anything, but his priority is to make the band sound great, to ensure everything is locked in on every front.” 

The music on Heart and Vintage, its immediate predecessor (which featured a quartet including Kenny Barron), diverges from all but one of Sabbagh’s first eight records. Released on labels like Sunnyside and Bee Jazz, they featured, in his words, “original music that doesn’t always sound like standards.”

Sabbagh recorded Heart 14 years after his first tenor-bass-drums album, an all-standards recital titled One Two Three, with drummer Rodney Green and bassist Ben Street. “I find records featuring original music easier to make than those with standards, because the originals define the direction,” he says. 

“To me, standards and original music are complementary, and I’ve worked hard to connect both sides of my playing. Now I have a deeper understanding of how I want to play the saxophone, and play those tunes.” 

On the opening track, Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” Sabbagh intones the melody deliberately, almost sotto voce, while Foster functions as the soloist, coloring with well-calibrated cymbal interpolations. Although the tempos are slightly brighter, Sabbagh, Martin, and Foster bring a similarly melody-first, no-wasted-notes attitude to “Gone with the Wind,” “When Lights Are Low,” and “Body and Soul,” and medium-up treatments of Wayne Shorter’s “ESP” and “Heart,” Sabbagh’s soulful waltz that titles the album.

The mutual trust and intuition between the members are palpable on the two scratch improvisations. “‘Lead the Way’ is a groove, and ‘Right the First Time’ is a freer, improvised piece,” Sabbagh says. “Al told me he’d never played completely improvised music before. Afterwards he said, ‘Now I understand why people want to do this. I really like it.’” 

The production values on Heart are highest-level, befitting the involvement of hifi high-end companies Stenheim and darTZeel as Executive Producers of the project. Iconic engineer James Farber recorded Heart direct to two-track tape to a custom 1/2-inch Ampex 351 tube tape machine at 30 IPS, with all the musicians playing in the same room. No edits or overdubs were necessary. The legendary Bernie Grundman mastered the proceedings, and the 180g vinyl pressing was cut all analog, as will all future Analog Tone Factory productions. Every sonic detail of the three masters functioning synchronously comes through with three-dimensional presence and transparency. 

Sabbagh adds: “I am proud that this record is the first one on my own label and I hope that, at a time when recorded music can feel disposable, audiophiles and regular listeners alike will band together to support the creation of new music, recorded all analog, so that this can be a sustainable way to document some of what’s happening today, in jazz and beyond!”

The Jerome Sabbagh Trio will perform an album release show with Joe Martin and Al Foster on Wednesday, September 18, at Bar Bayeux, 1066 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn; sets at 8:00 and 9:30pm.

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