Saft, Swallow, Previte and.... Iggy Pop?

Pianist Jamie Saft's trio recorded a well-received, sonically superb 2014 album called New Standard. If you need a group or individual backgrounder, please hit that hyperlink.

The new album, with all selections written by Saft, is more an exercise in compositional reiteration than in adventurous exploration, though the wide-openness of the melodic and emotionally sweeping tunes invites Swallow and Previte to both swing them and add orchestra-like drum'n'bass colors.

I guess I can't go further without mentioning the unusual presence of Iggy Pop. So I just did. Mr. Pop's contributions on three tunes were "flown in" from Florida, while the trio recorded live to two track analog tape. However, the publicity blurb makes clear that Pop wasn't an "add-on". His contribution was considered from the outset of the planning and writing, which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows that Saft has worked with The Beastie Boys, the Bad Brains and Donovan among others in the pop world (though that's being unfair to Donovan who's more of a jazz than folk artist).

This is a set of 12 evocative compositions that combines standard, melodic song construction mixed with extended piano improvs redolent of early '60's jazz shimmering familiar to fans of both John and Alice Coltrane and other jazz experimenters of that period. For instance, side C's "The Barrier" has Saft sounding like a cross between Floyd Cramer and McCoy Tyner, with some Alice C. thrown in for good measure, riffing on the famous "My Favorite Things" break, while behind him the rhythm section widens the conversation with both improvisational and orchestral electric bass'n'drums flourishes.

Iggy Pop's contributions were on-the-spot improvised lyrics sung in a deep, elastic vibrato that threaten to careen out of control but never do. There's no irony behind Pop's voice. He's serious even when in the "keep a stiff upper lip" song where "Halloween in your mind" represents personal distress and he sings "play me a trick, swallow my prick! But don't lose yourself". Pop tops himself on the lovely "Loneliness Road", but you'll have to hear it for yourself. Rest assured his contributions are neither there for novelty's sake nor do they sound tacked on.

So let's call this an attractive set of straight ahead, mid last century influenced jazz augmented by the Popster and let's also say the reference disk quality AAA recording makes this a record you'll want to play for both the music and sound, even if you ultimately conclude the for Saft, music's more of a holding pattern and not exactly probing. Not everything has to probe! It will be easy to dig the playing.

If you're wondering how they "flew" Pop's vocals into a two track AAA recording, here's what they did: Pop did send his vocals digitally. For those tunes, the master was played, Pop's vocals were mixed on top to another reel to reel recorder with the azimuth tightly adjusted to match the original machine's playback head. Then that tape was razor spliced into the cutting master in place of the original non-vocalized track. So you go down one generation on tape but keep everything (but the vocal) in the analog domain. You're not likely to notice the generational loss.

Immediately upon the opening of the album starter "Ten Nights" you'll get the album's expansive '60s vibe. You'll also be wowed by the rich, three-dimensional sound that puts a large, but not sounding isolated drum kit in the center, with plenty of side fill, Saft's piano stage left and Swallow's bass stage right. The cymbals sound rings convincingly, the tom and kick drum are fully fleshed out with the kick being especially well recorded and "cavernous" while Swallow's bass will just about reach out and massage your solar plexus.

The fine music making is only exceeded by the all-analog sound quality. No doubt all involved obsessed over the record's sound quality. It paid off in sound that truly is exceptional. Not just saying that. The record I got was perfectly pressed and jet-black quiet (Mastering engineer Scott Hull told me the plating and pressing was a "nightmare" of ruined lacquers and noisy pressings at various facilities until it was done properly but he wouldn't name names). The album is available at the Rare Noise Records website.

(With the labels' permission we'll soon post a YouTube video)

conjotter's picture

Thanks Michael.

This is the most interesting album I've heard in awhile.

Unusual match-up, but it works very well if the songs I listened to on the label's website are any indication.

Would have missed it without your review.

Just ordered the LP.

Regards, CJ.

firedog's picture

For immediate gratification I bought the hi-res download. Also sounds fantastic.

my new username's picture

... to The New Standard on Spotify, to preview it before purchase. I missed the earlier blog post about that record and don't follow jazz closely. So I'm catching up, thanks!

mkrzych's picture

Thanks for the review. I've pulled the trigger and purchase this album. Waiting for delivery with high hopes or quite pressing and this mentioned 3D soundstage sound.

bruno99's picture

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mkrzych's picture

As I told you already I purchased the album. Nice packaging, poly inners, but pressing quality, not top notch as you mentioned Michael. Have you cleaned the records before playing them? If so, it may change the judgment, but in my case out of the box, both records are warped and my cartridge bounding up and down a lot (don't know if that's audible) and both has a lot of surface noise - so called out of the groove swoosh. Side C at the end has more noise and clicks at the end of it. Music is just fine, but pressing quality on my copy not really and I am thinking to send it back to Amazon for replacement.