New Zion Trio: Ethereal And Engaging

Take the eerie atmospherics of Scratch Perry and apply them to the realm of acoustic piano. Add a flair for insightful improvisation tempered by years of experimental derring-do, and voila: In a flash, you have Fight Against Babylon, one of the year’s most bewitching small ensemble records. Pianist Jamie Saft, bolstered by the springy riddims of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Craig Santiago, comes up with a dub-influenced jazz program that reflects Jamaica’s studio sorcery while harking back to Alice Coltrane’s dreamy elaborations.

With several provocative titles on the Tzadik imprint, Saft works myriad arenas. But he’s no dabbler. The resonance of New Zion Trio stems from the music’s focus on getting the vibe right. As Santiago’s high-hat clicks and Grenadier’s bass lopes on “The Red Dies,” an airy atmosphere takes over. Saft’s right hand does lots of heavy lifting on this session. Trills are repeated, a mood is established, and as the groove insinuates itself in your head, a narcotic tone dominates. The threesome concocts something both engaging and ethereal.

On “Hear I Jah,” Saft switches to a Rhodes and launches into a prayer with fervid conviction. The band may be genuflecting to Scientist and Augustus Pablo, but it’s Lonnie Liston Smith who opens the Pearly Gates. Through warm clusters of keys, the pianist weaves a rich fabric of sound. “Lost Dub” allows things get sparse again, and the song’s insistence becomes addictive. Ultimately, the groove supplies the leader with all the liftoff his reveries need.

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