CD REVIEW: Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte – The New Standard

Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte – The New Standard
(RareNoiseRecords RNR 041. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Keyboard player Jamie Saft is best known as a member of New York’s exploratory and experimental music scene; he appeared in London last year to mark the 60th birthday of John Zorn.

The New Standard demonstrates Saft’s ability to thrive in a conventional jazz setting. His long-term collaborator Bobby Previte is a versatile drummer who has worked with the likes of Tim Berne and Lew Soloff; and the legendary electric bassist Steve Swallow will need no introduction to most readers. What a great band it is!

The flavour of the session is revealed after the first few seconds. The opener, Clarissa, is a flowing swinger on which Saft’s thoughtful chording and imaginative right-hand flurries on piano bring to mind Horace Silver and Hampton Hawes. The other thing that strikes you is the gorgeous sound, which has a rare immediacy. Swallow always has a distinctive tone, but rarely has the gentle buzz of his bass sounded this warm. And Previte’s drums come across with astonishing presence.

The disc consists of ten original compositions: seven come from Saft’s pen; the others are credited to the trio. Most are straightforward blowing vehicles, ideal for the participants to stretch out and enjoy themselves. The leader says that the high level of improvisation “gives the album a special kind of magic”. Previte expands: “We did the entire record in three hours. Some tunes were completely improvised, some….brought in by Jamie…were sketches, really….we never ever talked about how to start or how to end”.

Along with the pleasant surprises, this spontaneity brings low points and longeurs. After a promising start, Blue Shuffle becomes unnecessarily diffuse; other pieces just fizzle out. The three selections on which Saft uses Hammond organ tend to lack the bite that distinguishes those that are piano-led. But these are minor quibbles, and they are outweighed by the quality of the execution and the excitement that is generated elsewhere.

Trek and All Things to All People are built on repeated three-note bass motifs, and the drums on both have a military bearing. Step Lively is a rumba with a nice retro feel, and I See No Leader a kick-ass swinger where Previte – after a short intro – has a ball with unflashy time-playing. The impressionistic title track is more restless.

It is hard to believe that Saft, Swallow and Previte have not previously worked together as a unit. Much more downhome than Downtown, this CD – all first takes, by the way – is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Categories: miscellaneous

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