Inspired keyboardist Jamie Saft started appearing on an increasing number of N.Y.C.-oriented jazz recordings during the '90s and well into the new millennium. Born in Queens, New York, Saft studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and Tufts University. At these schools, he studied with Paul Bley, Geri Allen, Cecil McBee, and Joe Maneri, in addition to having composer and "piano technical guru" (as Saft described him) Burton Hatheway as a mentor. In 1993, Saft returned to New York and has since been performing a wide variety of music styles, from opera to folk to heavy metal to jazz in a self-described bar band. In 1995, he was the piano soloist in the New York and Paris premieres (at Lincoln Center and MC93 Bobigny, respectively) of John Adams' opera I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky. Through the mid- to late '90s he played Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, miniMoog, and bass in the aforementioned "bar band," Bobby Previte's Latin for Travelers, whose recordings were released on Enja. Saft has also played accordion -- in the Peter Epstein Quartet and on Jerry Granelli's Enter, a Dragon -- and steel guitar, among other instruments. He has recorded and performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, and worked with John Zorn (including membership in Electric Masada), Groove Collective, Marc Ribot, Drazy Hoops, and many more. Saft also co-led a release with trumpeter Cuong Vu entitled Ragged Jack on the Avant label.
By the close of the '90s, he was busy not only touring but also recording a solo album for Tzadik with musicians including saxophonist Chris Speed and drummer Jim Black; Sovlanut arrived in mid-2000. Saft continued recording for Tzadik throughout the 2000s, issuing such CDs as Breadcrumb Sins in 2002, Astaroth: Book of Angels, Vol. 1 (a Jamie Saft Trio set of compositions from John Zorn’s Masada repertoire) in 2005, and Trouble: The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan in 2006. He also continued collaborating on releases for other labels, such as The Only Juan (with Jerry Granelli) on Love Slave Records in 2001 and Merzdub (with Merzbow) on Caminante in 2006. Back on Tzadik, an anti-Semitism-themed heavy metal CD, Black Shabbis, appeared in 2009. In 2005 Saft had begun scoring films, and in early 2010 a compilation of selections from the scores of Murderball, God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Dear Talula, and Brooklyn Exile was released on Tzadik as Bag of Shells. Saft also began performing with a new band called the New Zion Trio, which included bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Craig Santiago. The New Zion Trio contributed one track to Saft's next solo album, Borscht Belt Studies (also on Tzadik). The 11-song, all-original set otherwise showcased the composer playing acoustic and electric piano in solo or duo settings with clarinetist Ben Goldberg.
In 2012, Saft began working in earnest with Eraldo Bernocchi and Giacomo Bruzzo's London-based label RareNoise. The first project he took part in was Metallic Taste of Blood, a band that balanced improvisation, dub, jazz, sonic investigation, and prog rock. Bernocchi and Saft were joined by Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and drummer Balázs Pándi. This was followed by his membership in the all-improv group Slobber Pup on Black Aces in 2013, featuring guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Trevor Dunn, and Pándi. Saft upped the ante considerably in 2014, taking part in no less than three recordings for the label, including Plymouth, with guitarists Morris and Mary Halvorson, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and bassist Chris Lightcap, in April; The New Standard, a more structured jazz trio date with Bobby Previte and Steve Swallow in May; and the self-titled Red Hill, from an improv quartet with Wadada Leo Smith, Pándi, and Morris on bass in September. The following year he released Ticonderoga on Clean Feed, backed by Morris, Joe McPhee, and Charles Downs. Strength & Power was a kind of thematic follow-up to Red Hill, but this time out, trombonist Roswell Rudd was in the lead role, backed by the pianist, Trevor Dunn, and Pandi. It was followed by Sunshine Seas, a date that featured Saft's New Zion Trio, and his co-leading with Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. ~ Joslyn Layne & Thom Jurek