Jamie Saft Trio ‘Loneliness Road’ 2LP/CD/DIG (RareNoise) 5/5

I do like pleasant surprises. None more so than when I put on an album with no particular expectations and am blown away by the music I’m listening to. And so we have pianist Jamie Saft’s latest release, “Loneliness Road”. Saft is perhaps best known for his work with John Zorn, with whom he has recorded several albums that often push the avant-garde buttons to the extreme. And so to hear the pianist performing such a subtle set of jazz tunes alongside bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte is quite a turn-up. But that’s not all. More surprises ensue, with the legendary rock singer Iggy Pop adding his deep, incisive vocal hues to three of the tunes on this session. Iggy Pop!? Really!? Well yes, and what a revelation it is. The Stooges front-man delivers his lines with such an air of authority that it sends a chill down my spine. Distinctively audacious and beautifully executed.

“Loneliness Road” draws its inspiration from a varied cross-section of American music, from the likes of Bob Dylan, The Band, Pharoah Sanders and Bill Evans. What is immediately evident is the naturalness and sensitivity with which the trio performs these tunes. The vibe is predominantly laid-back and cool, with moments of expansiveness and engrossing improvisation. But the tune itself is always at the forefront of the mind, and the subtlety with which the trio cajole and entice fresh ideas from these musical pieces, rewards the listener with what sounds like an intimate and personal musical journey.

Iggy Pop’s voice is raw and emotive. Maybe not for everyone, but having now turned 70, for me his vocal delivery here on the three tracks “Loneliness Road”, “Don’t Lose Yourself” and “Everyday” is quite startling. There’s an organic feel to the whole proceedings, his voice fitting perfectly with the contemporary piano/bass/drums that sit together so wonderfully well.

But it’s the trio itself that take centre stage. One of the noticeable things here is how no one musician takes the obvious lead over the others. This is a trio in the truest sense, each musician being incredibly individually gifted, but working together in unison to create a ‘oneness’ that just sings with clarity, understanding and an effortless intensity. “Ten Nights” opens the set, a stunning piece of delightfully interwoven colour and texture. There’s an ethereal, unrushed depth of beauty to “Bookmarking”, whilst melancholy reigns on the downtempo “Pinkus”. Across the whole album there is a rare depth and sincerity that lets out a gentle, soft light, the sound of the trio warm and welcoming, breathing new life into the songs it performs, and quietly yet assuredly standing heads and shoulders out from the crowd.

Mike Gates