CD review

Jamie Saft Quartet – Hidden Corners

Jamie Saft Quartet – Hidden Corners
(Rare Noise Records RNR0109 – CD/LP review by Mark McKergow)

Prolific New York keyboardist and composer Jamie Saft hits the decks (and the CD player) with this new collection of spiritual jazz, ably supported by an all-star quartet which goes well beyond the clichés and works superbly together to create flowing and unified music.

I must admit to being a bit sceptical when it comes to ‘spiritual jazz’.  All too often it comes out sounding like one-chord jazz, noodling on the infinite and best heard under the influence of herbal substances. So, I was delighted to discover that this new album isn’t like that at all! Jamie Saft has worked at the top levels in all kinds of music from the Beastie Boys to John Zorn, the B-52s to Elvin Jones. Alongside this undoubted talent we find Saft’s regular double bass player Bradley Jones, who has a key role in keeping the pulses as well as coming along with some top bowed bass work.

The quartet also features Hamid Drake, one of the finest drummers of recent times who has been heard in all manner of settings from William Parker to Peter Brotzmann, and saxophone legend Dave Liebman, one of the undersung heroes of the instrument. Liebman worked with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones in the early 1970s, and his releases as a leader and sideman are in double figures for pretty much every year since. He also wrote the book Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound, a bible for players looking to progress beyond the basics of the instrument. Saft met Drake at the Tampere festival in Finland in 2018, scheduled a trio session with him and Jones, and then found himself performing with Liebman at a concert celebrating John Coltrane’s late works. The trio was rapidly expanded to a quartet, and Hidden Corners is the result.

Saft refers to forebears such as John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler when describing the album. I would agree, and add that the music overall has a gentler quality than those connections might suggest. Positive Way opens the album with a resonant bass melody from Jones, with Drake’s percussion ever responsive and varied in support. Liebman enters with a Trane-esque tenor sax flourish, only to confound expectations seconds later with a lighter and more fluid take with plenty of overtones and glissandos. Saft is content to hold down the chords and set the context, stepping forward on Seven Are Double for a more free-form solo which nonetheless keeps on the reflective side.

Other highlights include Yesternight, a swaying lilting modal composition which offers solo space for all (Drake’s work behind the other musicians is again a delight) and title track Hidden Corners which delivers a mooching walking bass line and atmospheric setting for a blues which builds and shifts for a very worthwhile eight minutes. The closing number, Landrace, starts with a terrific bass solo from Jones before allowing Liebman to open up on soprano saxophone for a pointed and swirling passage. This is high-quality work from four very experienced musician performing in a new context for all of them –one of the settings in which true jazzers such as these flourish.

LINK: Preview the music here 

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