A longtime utility player for John Zorn, keyboardist and composer Jamie Saft shares the maestro’s fearless versatility and his willingness to burrow deep into genre. On Chaliwa, the second album by his New Zion Trio, Saft continues to explore the wholly natural intersection between improvised music and dub. Coproducing the project with jazz precision rather than Lee Perry weirdness, Saft, on acoustic piano and Rhodes, unspools impressionist lines and chords that point up his conservatory training and love of darkly meditative modal jazz. Singer H.R., of hardcore icons Bad Brains, adds star power to “Chant It Down,” but that cut can’t trump Saft’s general m.o. of gorgeous spontaneous melody atop bassist Brad Jones and drummer Craig Santiago’s static grooves. It’s a terrific band, and a terrific idea for a band.
The quartet Slobber Pup—Saft on organ and keyboards, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Balázs Pándi—pushes toward the opposite extreme in intensity. Black Aces, a completely improvised session, evokes the Tony Williams Lifetime, free jazz and avant-metal, often at the same time. Guitar fans especially should hear it: Morris’ dynamite performance recalls the taut, thick-toned phrasing of Inner Mounting Flame-era John McLaughlin as well as the rough-hewn blues noodling of James Blood Ulmer.