ALBUMS: The Jamie Saft Quartet Returns With Hidden Corners

The Kerhonkson, NY-based piano guru and his transcendent four-piece call up the spirits for their second LP on RareNoise

The Jamie Saft Quartet Hidden Corners, RareNoise 2019

Artist: The Jamie Saft Quartet

Album: Hidden Corners

Label: RareNoise Records

★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

Spiritual jazz casts a spell like nothing else. Though most commonly associated with the Coltranes – especially John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and his wife Alice’s entire catalog – it has a rich history encompassing the work of Pharaoh Sanders, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Lonnie Liston Smith and many more. The act of using improvised music to celebrate, make contact with or even become a higher power has produced some marvelous results, pushing musicians beyond their earthly concerns and into the realm of pure spirit. At its best, there’s nothing else like it. 

It’s not an area a lot of modern day jazz musicians step into these days, but prolific pianist Jamie Saft throws his hat into the ring with Hidden Corners. Joined by longtime collaborator Brad Jones on bass, legendary free jazz figure Hamid Drake on drums and equally esteemed veteran Dave Liebman on saxophone, Saft has crafted his most ambitious album yet. Drawing inspiration from the Kabbalah, rather than the Hinduism of Alice Coltrane or the more vague concept of God from her husband and his contemporaries, the keyboardist explores spirit in his own distinctive way.

Right out of the gate, he lays down a pair of cuts that show off the two best-known sides of the spiritual jazz coin. “Positive Way” uses an attractive melody and meditative swing for a cut that emphasizes joy. Saft concentrates more on comping than soloing here, setting the stage for some remarkable work from Liebman, a player who’s always known what to do with a good tune. By contrast, the next track “Seven Are Double” untethers the players and lets them fly. Drake and Jones keep the rhythm at a constant boil, while Saft and Liebman give themselves over to ecstasy without concern for structure or self-control. That could be a recipe for self-indulgent disaster, but in the hands of such gifted musicians, letting instinct take over results in something truly magnificent.

The Jamie Saft Quartet, 2019

That ends up being the only true abandonment of control on the record, but that’s fine. The title track and “Turn At Every Moment” continue to explore melody-rich terrain. “Yesternight” follows suit, but features possibly the best soloing from both Liebman and Saft on the record. “231 Gates” and “The Anteroom” push the rhythm into an almost ambient arena, as Saft’s piano and Liebman’s flute conjure an atmosphere of contemplation and reflection. “Landrace” ends the record with straightforward bop, as if bringing the company back down to earth – not as a rejection of spirituality, but a reminder that life on the ground still matters.

It’s hard to say if the music on this record is a reflection of actual faith, or merely an attempt at creating music that emulates some of its composer’s inspirations. Intent matters to some, understandably, but we’d argue that it ultimately doesn’t matter here – what you bring to the work is what you’ll dive into. No matter what you’re looking to find – solace, joy, spiritual abandonment, God him-, her- or itself, or simply a musical good time – it’s here in Hidden Corners.




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Michael Toland

Michael Toland has been writing about music for various fan- and magazines since 1988, including Austin Chronicle, Blurt, The Big Takeover, Trouser Press Record Guide (online), Pop Culture Press, Amplifier, Sleazegrinder, Austin-American Statesman, Austinist, Austincitysearch, Goldmine, FHT Music Notes and, from 2001–2006, his own website, High Bias. As might be surmised by the number of times “Austin” appears in the above list, he lives in Austin, Texas.

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