The "spiritual jazz" tradition has been undergoing something of a revival and it gets a real boost with this robust new offering from tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer. This is a revival of the Sunwatcher Quartet, a group Lederer formed in 2011 to celebrate the music of Albert Ayler. This version of the band retains original members Jamie Saft on keyboards and Matt Wilson on drums but adds the distinctive electric bass sound of Steve Swallow.
Lederer wrote all the compositions in this set, basing them on the writings of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. In the combination of Saft's heavy organ and Lederer's squealing tenor, the music recalls another spiritually inclined group of the past, the original Tony Williams Lifetime with Larry Young on organ. This is established from the first track, "Right Concentration," where howling tenor and stabs of organ pound over a bouncing bass line and crashing drums. That blunt force power later comes out in other forms like the breezy strolling groove of "Right Speech" and the lumbering stomp of "Right Livelihood."
That overpowering sound is contrasted by more contemplative moments. "Right View" has Lederer blowing subdued lines over Wilson's elaborate cymbal patterns while the organ simmers in the background. On "Right Effort" and "Right Mindfulness" Saft plays gentle acoustic piano, creating a serene mood matched by Lederer's soft crooning and Swallow's sculpted bass lines.
The underlying principles behind this work may be serious but the music itself takes some quirky turns. All four of these musicians are known for the sly humor they bring to other projects and that shows up here as well. On the soulful "Right Action" Steve Swallow's bass cruises through the melody of "A Love Supreme" under a greasy blend of low-down tenor, babbling organ and funky tambourine while the slow rhythmic pounding of "Right Resolve" sounds suspiciously close to the opening of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets."
This music contains moments of intense passion and quiet beauty but it also has a sense of fun that makes it sound friendly and relatable. Jeff Lederer is a vastly underrated saxophonist and he and his friends sound like they had a blast creating this transcendent, hard- swinging music.
Right Concentration; Right Speech; Right Effort; Right Action; Right Resolve; Right View; Right Livelihood;