Jamie Saft Quartet ‘Blue Dream’ 2LP/CD/DIG (RareNoise) 5/5

New York born pianist/composer/producer Jamie Saft has had a busy and productive 2018. Earlier this year RareNoise released “Blue Dream”, an incomparable acoustic jazz quartet album from the musical virtuoso. With Bill McHenry on tenor sax, Bradley Christopher Jones on acoustic bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, this is one of those rare albums that for me, pushes all the right buttons in all the right places.

The album features 9 originals and 3 standards/covers. It’s intense, it’s emotive, it’s beautiful. There’s a depth of fulfilment to Saft’s music, with a transcendent nature that burns with a unique spirituality, glorious soundscapes creating waves of emotion as this astonishing quartet ride the flames of some of the most vibrant and blazing contemporary jazz that I have heard.

The sound on this recording is worthy of special mention. Recorded by Saft with Brian Gunn, then mixed and mastered by Christian Castagno, the ambiance perfectly mirrors the music, where high production levels are seamlessly integrated with a natural, organic acoustic sound to create a deep resonance within the listener’s auditory, physical and mental senses. And then there’s Bill McHenry’s tenor sax sound. Just wow. Listening to that alone is a spiritual experience.

The 12 tunes presented here are more like 12 linked pieces of one musical journey. There’s a connection throughout, not just from the music, but from the four musicians performing it. The artistry and humble interplay between the quartet is astounding. Saft seems to have that knack of bringing the best out of others, and the focussed lyrical nature of the compositions gives rise to some awe-inspiringly stunning moments, time after time after time.

The album’s opener “Vessels” commands the listener’s attention immediately. Saft’s intelligent use of time and space speaks volumes as the tune evolves. An almost languid approach lulls us into a false sense of security, whilst an unnerving yet thrilling tenseness pervades. The music and the band gather momentum as it builds to a near crescendo of emotion… just holding back…and a little more…and a little more, until the elasticity breaks and a depth of satisfaction follows as Saft hits those bass notes on the piano…and then it begins again.

And so it goes throughout the entire recoding. The title tune features Bradley Christopher Jones on bass, startlingly inventive playing. The more contemplative yet none the less mind-blowing “Equanimity” could be as spiritual as spiritual jazz gets, with Nasheet Waits drumming his way into the subconscious through a mixture of skillful use of sound and his imaginatively fertile style. This is artful expression at its best, and with Bill McHenry on tenor sax, it lifts us out into the cosmos and beyond. His playing is quite simply impeccable. Whether it be subtle undertones adding atmosphere as on “Decamping”, free, soulful, modal jazz as on “Infinate Compassion”, or an avant-garde edged declaration as on “Words and Deeds”, his creative playing courses it’s way through the mind, body and soul like a gift from the musical gods.

Of the three standards recorded, “There’s a lull in my life” stands out as one of the finest pieces of music I’ve heard anywhere this year. It closes the album perfectly, and is just so sweetly fulfilling that it kind of rounds off all the preceding intensity with a sigh of relief and pure unadulterated satisfaction.

Music this good doesn’t come along all that often. But when it does, it can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pleasures in life. “Blue Dream” is a truly remarkable album from a group of musicians at the peak of their creative powers.

Mike Gates