Have you heard the new Iggy Pop album? Full disclosure; Jamie Saft’s Loneliness Road – streaming at Spotify – is the closest thing to a new Iggy Pop record that you’ll hear until Iggy makes his next one.
And what could be more perfect for Halloween than Iggy’s weathered, sepulchral croon?
Saft set out to make an elegant piano trio album with the formidable rhythm section of acoustic bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. They sent three tracks to Iggy, who improvised lyrics and did all the lead vocals in a single take. The result is as fresh as anything the Stooges’ frontman has done in decades.
The first number is Don’t Lose Yourself, a bluesy, One for My Baby-style nocturnal ballad that strolls along with a nifty implied triplet groove. “When it’s Halloween in your mind, fight them with crime…we’re racing with death, baby…” Iggy intones.
He goes way up the scale over Saft’s slow, brooding, latin-tinged swing on the title cut. You have to wait til after Saft’s darkly blues and gospel-infused crescendos for the best part, where Swallow rises briefly for a solo and Iggy talks about being at “The corner of Desperate Avenue and Loneliness Road.”
The third track is Everyday, another moody, bluesy one that Swallow introduces with a plaintive solo; Iggy makes it a sobering ballad. “My love is not a book of jive,” he asserts.
Obviously, if you’re working with an icon, your instrumentals without him are bound to be upstaged – but Saft’s night themes are vivid and inspired. The music is less about tradeoffs or interplay than intense focus. Saft, a multi-instrumentalist and member of John Zorn’s inner circle, is better known as an organist with a torrential attack, and there are a lot of places here where his chordal approach reflects that.
The opening number, Ten Nights, features darkly, latin-inflected block chords underpinning jaunty righthand flourishes while Swallow dances and Previte takes a triumphantly stormy tangent with his cymbals. In Little Harbor, Previte hints artfully and sparely at a clave as Swallow vamps uneasily and Saft slowly expands on a starry soul theme.
Bookmaking is as darkly spacious and suspenseful as anybody taking shady bets could want, an atmosphere that Saft revisits later in Nainsook. By contrast, Henbane is the closest thing to a straight-up swing tune here, Previte having a great time chewing the scenery, Saft spicing his ripples and glissandos with the occasional eerie, lingering accent.
There’s also Pinkus, a slow, austere, Summertimey blues ballad; The Barrier, which echoes a few things famously appropriated by Coltrane; Unclouded Moon, with its gritty, percussive, rubato rumble; and Gates, a soul-jazz waltz. Beyond its jazz appeal, Iggy completists won’t want to be without this album.