The Jamie Saft Quartet – Blue Dream – RareNoise

The Jamie Saft Quartet – Blue Dream – RareNoise RNR095, 55:14 [6/29/18] ****:

(Jamie Saft – piano, co-producer; Bill McHenry – tenor saxophone; Bradley Christopher Jones – acoustic bass; Nasheet Waits – drums)

Keyboardist Jamie Saft has a broad musical history. On the jazz side his credits include close to a dozen John Zorn releases; two projects with the intense noise-jazz outfit Slobber Pup; he’s been a sideman to Wadada Leo Smith, Bobby Previte, Dave Douglas and others; and his rock/pop resumé includes Iggy Pop, The B-52’s, The Beastie Boys and more. Earlier in 2018 Saft issued his first solo piano record, Solo A Genova. Saft’s hour-long Blue Dream finds him fronting The Jamie Saft Quartet, a relatively straightforward jazz band which comprises Saft on acoustic piano; tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry (12 records as leader; he’s also collaborated with Andrew Cyrille, Paul Motian, Eric Revis, Orrin Evans, Ethan Iverson and others); acoustic bassist Christopher Jones; and drummer Nasheet Waits (two albums as leader so far and played alongside Jason Moran, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch and lots more). Blue Dream is available as a four-panel CD digipack, high-quality download or vinyl LP. This review refers to the CD.

Blue Dream showcases nine Saft originals as well as three standards (one made famous by Frank Sinatra; another via Nat King Cole; and the third done by various singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Cole). There are plenty of blue-tinted undertones throughout the 12 selections. The quartet opens with Saft’s darkly-delineated “Vessels,” with McHenry’s tenor sax gliding above Jones, Waits and Saft’s rhythmic accents. The softer introduction is progressively altered until the music heightens and escalates and the tune’s vibe toughens, especially when Saft takes a solo spotlight. The impression of a build-up coalesces on Saft’s “Equanimity.” The piece takes the notion of mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper in a difficult situation into a different direction. Here, the group plays fast, firm and resolute but never loses their communal self-control and poise. “Equanimity” is bright and flourishing and echoes back to the mid-1960s rather than something overtly neo-modernist. One of the best contemporary-edged numbers is Saft’s blistering “Sword’s Water,” which maintains a fiery piano/sax swagger while Jones and Waits craft a hot rhythmic attack. The title track is another wonderful equivocation of the 1960s Blue Note era with Jones providing notable, upfront bass lines, and Waits intermingling his subtle cymbals with toms and snare, while Saft layers in a poignant piano undercurrent. There’s also a twilight-saturated sensibility to Saft’s “Infinite Compassion,” where Saft returns to duskier piano chords, while McHenry skims atop with higher-hued sax lines.

Every composition has room and space for the band to groove, solo or otherwise participate. Waits displays his drumming skills throughout but is quite memorable on the swinging “Decamping,” which is also a striking platform for Saft and Jones. The mid-tempo “Words and Deeds” has a similar posture where Waits supplies a moving rhythmic footing and McHenry and Saft combine their instrumental prowess, and head into individual improvisational avenues.

Saft and the other members present a nostalgic turn on the three covers. The beautifully melodic “Violets for Your Furs” (which came to prominence on Sinatra’s 1954 LP Songs for Young Lovers) captures the ambiance of the tune’s description of wearing violets with furs on a Manhattan evening. There’s also a nice cool-down demeanor to the jazz standard “Sweet Lorraine,” which Nat King Cole recorded in 1940 and has been interpreted over the decades by Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Oscar Peterson and more. The foursome concludes with the lyrically sublime “There’s a Lull in My Life,” a torch ballad which has previously been done by Cole, Tony Bennett, Fitzgerald and Chet Baker. The Jamie Saft Quartet give “There’s a Lull in My Life” their all, stretching the expressively graceful selection to nearly seven minutes. Saft and McHenry have abundant freedom to contribute classic-sounding piano and sax interludes. If jazz fans somehow missed Blue Dream, search it out. It’s well worth discovering.

TrackList:
Vessels
Equanimity
Sword’s Water
Violets for Your Furs
Blue Dream
Infinite Compassion
Sweet Lorraine
Walls
Decamping
Words and Deeds
Mysterious Arrangements
There’s a Lull in My Life

—Doug Simpson

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