Featuring Bassist Buster Williams, Keyboardist Jamie Saft and Drummer Matt Wilson
“Lots of modern improvisers try to balance the joy of expressionism with the buoyancy of swing, but few do it with the natural ease of Jeff Lederer. That ease – call it grace if you like – is front and center on the respected reed player’s new Sunwatcher (Jazzheads ). With drummer Matt Wilson , bassist Buster Williams , and keyboardist Jamie Saft on board, Lederer has made a record that suggests exuberance can be delivered in various ways.
A key member of Wilson’s acclaimed quartet, the 48-year-old saxophonist is one of New York’s most versatile horn players. He has accompanied tap dancers at Harlem’s famed Showman’s Club and grooved the five boroughs as part of Jimmy Bosch’s salsa outfit. Regardless of setting, the passionate peal of his sax is always on display.
Sunwatcher, which harks to the impact of Albert Ayler’s music, and lovingly conjures the heady atmosphere of late-‘60s jazz, pulls no punches while illustrating its interests. Its blues are deep, its ballads are poignant and its experimental moments are tempered by an expert sense of direction. It’s Lederer’s first disc under his own name, and the maturity of his work is obvious.
“It certainly is a different record than I would have made when I was 27,” he chuckles. “I know more about myself these days, and about the music, too. Four or five years ago I kind of eliminated the weight of jazz history from my thinking, and started to speak my own personalized language. It felt great.”
A true integration of freedom and swing is central to Lederer’s lingo. Pieces such as “Albert’s Sun” and “Turiyasangitananda” provide room for the leader’s roars and rumbles. “Christo Redentor” and “Breaking Bread Together” keep one foot in gutbucket R&B. Each tack not only allows room for the other, but nourishes its mate as well.
“I think we’re in a really healthy place these days. People are no longer concerned about ‘are you out?’ or ‘are you traditional?’ offers the saxophonist. “I hope that abolishing those dividing lines is part of my current playing.”
The Sunwatcher recording session was a “present tense” situation; many of the tracks are first or second takes. Lederer’s a spontaneity zealot. He kept the frameworks relatively simple, yet they yielded some profound performances. That immediacy is one of the elements that has made him such a committed Ayler fan (the album title references a piece from the classic New Grass disc, and the cover shot parallels a famed Eliott Landy photo of Ayler in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park). L.A. native Lederer was initially turned on to the jazz icon when his Oberlin college professor Wendell Logan hipped him to a copy of Ayler’s Love Cry.
“It spoke to me right away. It has a folk music quality to it, a directness. People don’t always identify the lyricism in play with Albert because they’re so taken aback by the sound and the extended technique. But it’s right there. I’m drawn to tenor players who work that gritty aspect. Like George Adams on Mingus at Carnegie Hall? Oh my god.”
Lederer plays soprano and clarinet as well. The straight horns show up on “Arnold Schoenberg’s Son (Was My Math Teacher),” “Snake In the Blackberry Patch,” and “Arshawsky.” Each has an unusually kaleidoscopic feel, and each as a way of showing its whimsical side. He believes the clarinet to be a “funny” horn. “Arshawsky” is Artie Shaw’s real last name. On the track, Lederer deconstructs his instrument, placing the mouthpiece on the ax’s lower joint. He’s a guy who likes to mess with the norm a bit. “It’s a cool sound, a non-tempered scale kind of thing.”
Chemistry is key in jazz, and Sunwatcher has a palpable camaraderie to it. Wilson and Williams often work together. Lederer plays with Wilson all the time. Saft and Lederer are pals. Williams and Saft had never met. The leader knew they could all romp together, and he was right. “Actually, Buster wasn’t familiar with my playing either. But right from the start he was very giving. There’s a great deal of space in his playing. He doesn’t feel the need to fill every moment. At one point we were getting a bit loose and he lifted an eyebrow as if to say, ‘Okay, that’s where we’re headed? Cool.’ I think he’s quite skilled at free playing.”
As is Lederer. His shrieks have a soulful purpose, his murmurs have an attractive warmth. When he rockets a solo from 0 to 100, there’s always a story being told between the lines. “When I would do that at the Showman’s Club, they definitely understood that the squeaking and honking wasn’t coming from an artsy intention, but an emotional one. I like that my ecstatic thing differentiates me from other cats, but I like it most when it fits in, when it comes from what’s around me.”
Listen up. That kind of joy is spread throughout the eight inventive tracks of Sunwatcher.
Release date: June 14, 2011
..:: SOURCE: Fully Altered Media ::..