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As he holed up in a family cabin in Vermont during the pandemic, veteran saxophonist Jeff Lederer studied the Buddhist teachings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, specifically the “eight foundational ideas of conduct” from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. That inspired Eightfold Path, his new album and first with his occasional backing trio Sunwatcher in a decade. Each of the eight tunes was recorded outside with no rehearsal, and only first takes were used. That sounds like a recipe for chaos, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since Sunwatcher features musicians of the highest caliber – keyboardist Jamie Saft, drummer Matt Wilson, legendary bassist Steve Swallow, all leaders in their own right – everyone instinctively knows how to come together to bring out the best in Lederer’s melodies. Saft and the leader soar on the funky shuffle “Right Action,” while “Right Concentration” recalls the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane. “Right Livelihood” indulges in some beat-driven stomp, while “Right Resolve” lets Saft and Lederer contribute outstanding breaks to a chunky blues. The band takes “Right Effort” and “Right View” into effortlessly soulful ballad territory, both featuring sterling Swallow solos. The luminous “Right Mindfulness” ends the record by “remembering to come back to the present moment,” as taken from Hanh’s text. Which is appropriate, given that one of the central themes of Buddhism to be in the moment – a theme that runs through jazz, improvisation, and this album as well.
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