It’s taken pianist Jamie Saft 25 years to put out his first solo-piano disc. Based on the many other kinds of recordings he’s made—the collaborations with John Zorn, the album of Bob Dylan covers, the three cuts featuring Iggy Pop on last year’s Loneliness Road—you’d expect his unaccompanied debut to display a wide range of influences, and this 11-track collection, recorded live in Italy, certainly doesn’t lack eclecticism. With the exception of three originals and a couple of postbop ringers (“Naima” and “Blue in Green”), all the material comes from beyond jazz’s traditional stylistic boundary lines.
A rapturous version of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You” opens the set. The relish with which Saft navigates its harmony suggests that he’s been waiting a while to sink into such a rich chordal bed. Thornier but no less passionate is his take on Charles Ives’ “The Housatonic at Stockbridge,” which brings out the piece’s bedrock hymnal quality amidst all the polytonality. Speaking of hymns, Dylan’s “Restless Farewell” (one of two songs by the Bard of Hibbing) sounds like a gospel standard in Saft’s hands. But the most arrestingly reimagined composition here has to be ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” which begins with ominous rooting around inside the piano, then transitions into a kind of tragic aria, its central riff a cathedral bell tolling humanity’s doom.
Moments like these are occasionally undercut by an inability to resist showing off. Although Saft’s rippling multi-octave runs can be exhilarating—as on a crafty medley of his own “The New Standard” and “Pinkus”—he leans on the speed too often, triggering mental images of Art Tatum continually barging in uninvited to the same party. Still, in all other respects, Solo a Genova proves to have been well worth waiting for.Originally Published