Pianist, composer, arranger and producer Jamie Saft seems to be everywhere in the middle of 2006. He recently turned up on a slew of Tzadik recordings by other artists, and collaborated with Merzbow on a dub record! That said, Trouble: The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan is special; Saft has always held the work of Bob Dylan in high esteem, and here makes his case as for why the music of Bob Dylan -- like the music of Serge Gainsbourg and Marc Bolan -- belongs in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. The difference is that unlike those recordings, where various artists contributed their own interpretations of songs by the aforementioned composers, on Trouble it's only Saft with his trio, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Ben Perowsky, with vocal contributions from Mike Patton and Antony (speaking of someone who seems to be everywhere these days) on two tracks. Saft goes to great pains in his liner notes to explain why he didn't take great liberties with the material since he already considered it radical. He also notes why Dylan should be considered a great improviser given how the nature of his songs' arrangements change night to night in live settings. Saft's own performance of this unusual mix of Dylan songs is quietly remarkable. There's the beautifully redolent reading of "What Was It You Wanted" that turns the blues in the tune inside out and makes it a midtempo jazz ballad with a simple rearrangement of its harmonics and time. Patton's overwrought performance on the lyrics of "Ballad of a Thin Man" is juxtaposed nicely with the funereal piano. But it swings, too, Perowsky's cymbal work accents the middle of the vocal lines nicely adding space and dimension to them. The soul-jazz take on "Dignity" is both unexpected and delightful with its Hammond B-3 organ lines playing the melody. Cohen's steady single-line bassing adds real heft to the arrangement, with an introductory drum lick that deceives temporarily, sounding like it might be "Rainy Day Women 12 X 35." The New Orleans jazz/blues read of "God Knows" and the ethereal brushwork on "Dirge," as both piano and bass play call and response lines in the verse (Cohen's bass is the melody here) is utterly spooky. Antony's vocal take on "Living the Blues," shows he can sing blues and ragtime with the best of them. The set ends with "Disease of Conceit," it's slow, mournful and wistful. Its gospel feel brings out the deeper layer of meaning in the tune. Ultimately, Trouble is anything but; and Lindsey Horner's Jewels and Binoculars trio places Dylan's music solidly in the jazz context, though unlike that fine group, Saft feels no need to really improvise on the material, given its own merits, and comes up with a compelling, mysterious recording that brings folk music, jazz, blues, and other subtleties inherent in the work out.
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