Iggy Pop sings jazz! That’s on three of this album’s twelve cuts anyway.
His 2009 solo album, Préliminaires had “jazz overtones” and was influenced, he said, by New Orleans jazz. But Loneliness Road (Rare Noise) is the real deal – no overblown Sinatra-soused career-crisis excrescence nor, as Pop says, “an avant record by any means”, but an excellent album of exceedingly incisive contemporary piano trioism.
Pop’s involvement resulted from his career-long openness to collaboration, which is itself a supremely jazzy thing, and a rare tendency for a rock ‘n’ roll frontman: he was working with producer Bill Laswell, who suggested he check out a project Rare Noise’s Giacomo Bruzzo was involved with.
In a great interview with Ben Ratliff in Rolling Stone, in which Pop discussed working on Loneliness Road and, incidentally, turning 70, Pop said he’d never heard of Saft until then. But this is Saft’s gig. He’s a composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer who’s worked as a high profile session musician, and extensively in collaboration with John Zorn. Since 2012 he’s racked up a diverse catalogue of recordings on Rare Noise, ranging from the face-melting improv of Slobber Pup – in which he plays synths and electric keys – to Serenity Knolls, an album of pacific lap steel duets with guitarist Bill Brovold.
But Loneliness Road is a surprisingly subtle album for either Saft or drummer Bobby Previte, never mind Iggy. Neither are traditionally or exclusively jazz players. The musician most at home here, and the one whose absence would have the most debilitating effect, is bassist Steve Swallow.
Swallow plays electric, as he does so superbly in Carla Bley’s current trio, in order to exploit its potential suppleness and nuance, not it’s volume. That said, check the fat bass sound on the downtempo ‘Pinkus’, without which gravity it could get maudlin.
This is the trio’s second album, and I believe it was in the can before Iggy got involved: he was sent the three completed tracks to work on at his leisure. But once on board, he clearly didn’t just toss his takes off: they’re shaped to fit the mood as much as the mode.
More than once Pop has cited ‘slip note’ singer Floyd Cramer’s influence on these recordings: he evidently put some thought into how to make his voice fit. And rather than sing about “Skull rings/Fast cars/ Hot chicks” and “Money”, as he did with the Stooges (‘Skull Ring’), here he keeps his lyrics suitably heartfelt: “I’m hungry for the soul that shines in your eyes,” he sings on choice cut ‘Every Day’, “And all I want to say is/I love you/Every day/I love you.” He leaves the cock in his pocket.
“Each of these is an organic take, no comps, each one also happens to be the first take,” Pop says. “I spent a great deal of time developing each one before the session, so that’s probably why by the time I opened my mouth, I was really dying to sing the song and get it off my chest.”
Believe it. There’s a rare naturalness to Pop’s vocals here. You might say they’re a bit shonky, but I don’t mind that one bit. Personally, it’s like I prefer the careworn vocals on Billie Holiday’s late small group sessions to the more youthful perfection and exuberance of those early Teddy Wilson sides, and it’s a similar thing here.
Maybe it’s just pragmatic – even the slick Josh Homme production on Post Pop Depression can’ disguise how loose Pop’s voice has become – but it suits the material. As Pop puts it: “I was a little surprised at how feeble I sounded on certain parts of it [laughs], but I thought that was OK. You know, I kinda thought that the feeling fit.” And he makes it work.
But enough about Iggy. The eight pieces by the trio sans Pop aren’t afterthoughts, they’re the meat of the album, and it deserves a whole other review.
The set has a crispness and vitality. It swings hard in places, never dwelling on any introspection. Even a free-flowing, supremely but unremarkably jazzy track like ‘Henbane’ – a track I’ve picked out at random – is played with real vivacity: check out Previte’s precision cymbal attack, the nonpareil authority in Swallow’s meaty solo, and the rhapsodic lift of Saft’s piano.
To be honest I came to this half-heartedly, because with a few notable exceptions I’ve long since become tired of the contemporary piano trio genre. Fortunately Swallow is a consummate musician, and Previte and Saft bring rare sensitivity and conviction to a set utterly bereft of second-hand emotion and genre cliche.
Given the session basically dropped into Pop’s lap, he’s blessed by association.
Jamie Saft – piano, organ; Steve Swallow – electric bass; Bobby Previte – drums; Iggy Pop – vocals on ‘Don’t Lose Yourself’, ‘Loneliness Road’, ‘Everyday’.
Buy Loneliness Road direct from Rare Noise.