Jamie Saft, Loneliness Road

Jamie Saft, Loneliness Road

Published: 18/06/2023

Author: Karsten Hein

Category: Audiophile Music

Tag(s): Jazz

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For his 2017 album "Loneliness Road”, Jamie Saft teamed up with bassist and composer Steve Swallow, drummer and composer Bobby Previte, and singer-songwriter Iggy Pop, to arrange a unique and, in many ways, unexpected combination of talents. The challenge was to merge the distinct musical personas of the three artists into one cohesive work of art. While the concept seemed intriguing to me at first, I quickly found that the style and mood of the vocal tracks are noticeably disjunct from the instrumental passages, which only serves to highlight the more general lack of cohesion that the album suffers from.

While many of the tracks of “Loneliness Road” may work quite well on their own, I would have preferred to see a build-up of suspense to a climax that spans more than a single song. I guess, I would have expected the fusion of Iggy Pop's raw and energetic rock with Saft and Swallow's Jazz expertise to make for some really interesting dynamics. However, the execution often feels forced and uneasy. The transitions between the different genres and musical styles are simply too abrupt and awkward, leaving me with a sense of disconnection from the overall composition of the album.

Another notable issue is the inconsistency in the vocal performances by Iggy Pop. While his distinctive voice has been a defining element of his career, I find that it does not blend all too well with the Jazz-infused instrumentals provided by Saft and Swallow. Iggy Pop's vocals often come across as out-of-place and strained, lacking the necessary nuance and subtlety that is required to navigate the Jazz landscape effectively. This mismatch between vocal delivery and musical arrangement further adds to the disjointed nature of the album.

That said, there are some redeeming qualities to be found on the album. The instrumental performances by Jamie Saft and Steve Swallow serve well to showcase their musical proficiency and creative abilities. Their interplay and improvisational moments offer glimpses of masterful synergy that I would have preferred to see throughout the album. 

Additionally, some of the lyrical content on "Loneliness Road" displays flashes of poetic introspection and emotional depth. Iggy Pop's lyrics, although sometimes overshadowed by the mismatched vocal delivery, touch upon themes of longing, isolation, and the human condition. In moments where the lyrics are given space to breathe and take center stage, they provide a glimpse of the album's potential to connect on a deeper emotional level.

Some critics have suggested that the production quality of “Loneliness Road” was not on par with similar Jazz productions and could seem muddy and congested, which made it challenging for some listeners to discern individual instruments and appreciate their contributions fully. While this may or may not be true for the vinyl record, it is a trait that I have not been able to detect or reproduce on our HiFi systems when working with the album on CD. In fact, the excellent recording quality and mastering is the very reason for me to include the album in my list of audiophile choices. Instruments appear live and life-like with lots of space around them, making this a decent CD album to pull out of the shelf when it comes to the task of representing natural instruments and vocal timbre.

From an audiophile perspective, I would have preferred the piano to be positioned centre stage, as is mostly the case with music recordings these days. "Loneliness Road” instead places Steve Swallow’s drum set at the centre of the stage with the piano being positioned far off to the right hand side. This placement gives Swallow’s performance as a drummer lots of attention, but it also requires the listener to tolerate long passages during which the harmonic weight of the music appears off-centre. In the very beginning, I found myself repeatedly checking speaker position and balance to confirm that the fault was not caused by some accidental flaw in my HiFi setup.

In conclusion, I must confess—to those who have not detected this already—that I have a love-hate relationship with this particular Jazz album. I pull it out whenever I am tired of the ordinary, smooth, and predictable, and when I am in the mood for the unconventional and unexpected, the raw and the unfinished. On such days, I tend not to mind the slight irritation from the off-centre placement of the piano or the lack of cohesion among the songs. Occasionally, I enjoy the feeling of being teased and of not getting exactly what I want, especially, when the people who are teasing me are music professionals at such an advanced level of the game.

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