A decade has passed since the self-titled debut by saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Jeff Lederer’s Sunwatcher, a fierce quartet that started out as an Albert Ayler tribute band of sorts. Their follow-up, Eightfold Path, has finally arrived and is well worth the wait. Two of Lederer’s original Sunwatcher bandmates, organist/pianist Jamie Saft and drummer Matt Wilson, have returned, with a new addition on bass: the legendary Steve Swallow (replacing Buster Williams). Needless to say, with such a Hall of Fame lineup, there’s virtuosic might aplenty, along with deep rapport and compositional and improvisational technique of the highest order.
Inspired by Buddhist teachings that Lederer immersed himself in during the pandemic summer of 2020, particularly the writings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and the Noble Eightfold Path concept (a practice of eight steps that generates well-being), the foursome embark on an uplifting odyssey, fittingly expressed over eight spirited compositions.
The music on Eightfold Path is a marvel in more ways than one. Not only was it recorded beautifully by Saft outside at his upstate New York home, but Lederer wrote every tune here the day before the session, with most of the tracks then completed in a single take. You’d never know that based on what you hear: From the outset this group is dialed in, its members sharing a psychic bond few can touch.
Lederer’s tunes bow to the blues and have a crunchy edge, thanks to Saft’s superb and ubiquitous organ and the muscular Swallow/Wilson dream-team rhythm section. On pieces like “Right Concentration,” “Right Speech,” and “Right Action,” Saft’s sonic splatter and shimmering melodies prove the perfect complement to Lederer’s imposing, relentless playing. Eightfold Path is righteous music that rocks.