As regular readers will know, I hold Iggy Pop in high esteem. Much like the other sadly departed members of the now holy trinity of Bowie and Lou Reed, Iggy is never shy of collaboration and interesting side projects. He also is keeping himself busy way into his dotage, as did Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash and as does Dylan. As per all of these artists, his work is a commentary on ageing, life, death, love and regret. He still has something to say and it worth listening to.
Last year’s Post Pop Depression project with Josh Homme led to one of my favourite ever concerts (read about it here). Prior to this, Iggy’s work hasbeen varied. His reunion with Stooges provided closure on their wonderful history. He has released a couple of French influenced LPs “Préliminaires” and “Après” in 2009 and 2012. They were short and consisted of classic covers done it a straight up crooning style such as “How Insensitive”, “Michelle” and “La Vie En Rose”. His guest spots through the years on individual songs have been diverse, be they with Death In Vegas on “Aisha” Debbie Harry on the Cole Porter “Red Hot” Project or Dangermouse and Sparklehorse on “Pain”.
I was therefore intrigued to hear of his latest collaboration.
Iggy provides vocals (and lyrics for that matter) on three songs on Jamie Saft’s new LP “Loneliness Road”. Even without Iggy’s contribution it is a rather excellent record. Saft is a keyboard player, the junior member in this instance in a piano trio with ECM alumni and bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. Previte plays regularly with John Zorn and Saft has a wide-ranging repertoire which runs into the more experimental end of jazz. He’s worked with Beastie Boys, the B-52s, Bad Brains as well as Zorn and classical composer John Adams.
Fear not though. This is a hugely approachable, melodic and restful in the most part. A traditional piano, bass and drum trio, there is no discord, rhythms are recognisable and welcoming. “Pinkus” is a beautiful slow blues, the opening “Ten Nights” swings in 3/4 time and “Henbane” would sit well on any early classic Herbie Hancock Blue Note LPs, a walking bass acting as a counterpoint to the piano melody. The album comes more from the Bill Evans tradition, rather than anything more contemporary such as E.S.T, which is interesting given Saft and his colleague’s more edgy background
The tracks with Iggy are something different though. “Don’t Lose Yourself” is slower, almost a death march, Iggy’s close miked baritone sounding old, fragile and brave. “Structure a plan, strike where you can, got to believe, get what you need“, this is a song about staying true. The title track “Loneliness Road” is sung in a slightly higher register, an update of “I Need Somebody” from “Raw Power”.
Iggy closes the LP too with the beautiful ballad “Everyday”, a straight up love song (“All I Want To Say Is I Love You Everyday”).
Iggy has always had a fondness for some jazz, way back to Steve Mackay’s presence on the 2nd Stooges LP “Funhouse”.
There is a revealing interview in Rolling Stone as well as one in this month’s Jazzwise magazine. Saft has commented that he sent Iggy fully realised songs rather than sketch’s for Iggy to work with. Iggy wasn’t aware of the musicians but he shows how when you’ve reached his station in life, well, the little black book kicks in:
I’ll tell you the reasons it happened. For one thing, I’ve been around for a long time and spread my net very wide, and at this point I just happen to know a lot of different types of musical people. [Bassist and producer] Bill Laswell and I were working on something else, with me and Bootsy [Collins], that Bill’s producing. Bill told me, “Look, there’s some guys in New York …,” and I don’t remember how he described them, but I definitely got the idea that it wasn’t a balls-out, tight-pants, electrified outfit. He said, “They really want to do something with you, and could I send them along?” I said, “Yeah.” I think he mentioned that there was a fella behind it named Giacomo [Bruzzo, co-founder of RareNoise Records] – I don’t know if he used the word “jazz” or not, but a good record label, he said. So they sent me three tracks, and they were already played, and that was that.
In the same interview, he reaffirms his love for quieter music, whether it is Debussy or Sinatra. This is evident on the French LPs, the underrated “Avenue B” LP or his 6Music radio show.
By way of the other collaborator’s view of the project, Saft said of Iggy that he achieved what they were looking for:
“He sent us his very first take of each tune,” says Saft. “He told me he used no music stand or lyric sheet as he was so ready to record these that the words just spilled out. Iggy said though he did many takes of each track, the first takes just ‘had the juice.’ Of course this perfectly aligned with the first take idea we’d used in producing the album both musically and sonically. In Previte’s own words: “And Iggy – he took it so seriously. He really heard us.”
The LP was recorded in a matter of hours in upstate New York, very much in the vein of the classic jazz LP as mastered by Rudy Van Gelder. I’ve been playing the record on repeat for the last week. It really is close to perfect, simple yet sophisticated and I would recommend it pretty much without reservation to Iggy and non-jazz fans alike.
Jimmy Osterberg keeps us on our toes and long may he continue to do so.
The album is available from Rarenoise Records here.