Since the early '90s, composer and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Jamie Saft has woven himself inseparably into New York’s downtown scene as a session player and recording artist. A Bag of Shells looks at another side of Saft’s career, his soundtrack work. Beginning in 2005, Saft began scoring films. Here are excerpts of four scores in an eclectic arrangement not sequenced according to film origin, but programmed aesthetically. The cues are taken from four documentaries: Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin’s Murderball; Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tom Dillon’s God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan; Lori Benson’s documentary short Dear Talula; and Brooklyn Exile, by Nathaniel Goldstock and Vin Cintorino. The sequencing reflects dislocation but not discontinuity. The heavy metal theme from Murderball -- where Saft plays everything but drums -- contrasts sharply with the mostly organic acoustic music that makes up three consecutive cues from Dear Talula. This is followed by the gorgeous North African nomadic music of “Social Security” from God Grew Tired of Us, where Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz plays oud and Cyro Baptista plays hand drums. Some of the later cues from Murderball are quiet, nearly ambient, such as “Keith Goes Home,” played on Wurlitzer electric piano and digitally delayed electric guitar. There’s also the retro ‘60s groove of “Dezert Blues” from Dear Talula with Farfisa organ, electric bass, reverbed electric guitar, and drums. The final cut is the theme from Brooklyn Exile, where klezmer is brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century with skittering piano, stomping electric bass, and triple-timed rock drums. It all displays Saft’s originality, diversity, and exemplary musicianship. A Bag of Shells is an album that asks as many questions as the films it illustrates do, much to the listener’s delight.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek