Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jamie Baum's "Bridges" Spans the gap between Multiple Musical Traditions

Jamie Baum's Septet + Bridges : Sunnyside SSC-1502
The New York based flautist Jamie Baum has made a name for herself as both an accomplished musician and a formidable composer/arranger. Her composing for mid-sized groups is some of the finest and most creative on the contemorry music scene. I've been a fan of her music since I first heard her brilliant 2008 record Solace

Despite some changes in personnel over the years, with her Septet+,she has always managed to assemble and lead a group of talented, like-minded musicians that each bring something special to her musical table. With Baum's music, she downplays her own individual viruosity, never seeming to have the inclination to feature herself in her work, content instead to let the whole of her musical compositions speak as a unified vision. 

On her latest album, aptly titled Bridges, she has released an album of nine original compositions that feature the unique musical skills of her seven bandmates. The music is a the result of a Guggenheim fellowship that allows artists such as Baum the time and resources to create. The instrumentation is itself a bit unusual- flute, trumpet, saxophone and bass clarinet, French horn, electric guitar, piano, upright bass, drums and even a Tibetan singing bowl. Special guests bring additional percussion, voice and tanpura to the mix.

The album is a adroit mixture, with elements of Middle-Eastern or Maqam, Jewish, Indian and Nepalese, Southeast Asian, rock, chamber music and jazz. 

Starting out with the driving “From the Well” the group shows how well this instrumentation can tackle this complicated frenzied beat. The music accelerates like a darting roadrunner across the desert sand until Baum’s flute emerges. Her lines flow like bubbling spring water from an oasis. Sam Sidigursky’s bass clarinet offers a sinewy, snake charmer-like solo before Amir ElSaffar’s clarion trumpet rings over the horizon like a cry to action.

Baum employs ElSaffar’s distinct voice to sing her poignant “Song Without Words,” which is a dedication to her late father. ElSaffar’s voice drips with emotional content. Sidigursky’s bass clarinet solo is a masterwork of expressiveness. Baum’s own solo is soft and feathery, floating on the wings of her fond memories. Baum uses Comer’s distinctive French horn, an instrument not normally heard in jazz, to great effect here.

“There Are No Words” starts with a pedal point by pianist Escreet over which Baum and Sagdigursky play a weaving synchronous line. Bassist Zach Lober offers a deep toned solo, which leads into a Baum solo that features a subtle echo effect giving it a windswept sound. Pianist John Escreet has been on my radar for some time.  His facile keyboard work is harmonically complex, always unusual and played with the utmost sensitivity.

The album then proceeds into a five-part suite that Honors Nepal and commemorates the catastrophic Gorkha earthquake that occurred in April of 2015. The natural disaster took nearly nine thousand lives and injured another twenty-two thousand.

The suite starts with Part 1 “The Earthquake” with the peaceful drone of a Tibetan singing bell which permeates the air before a somber, almost funereal horn movement gently plays over it. Then all hell breaks loose. Brad Shepik’s distorted guitar wizardry recreates the havoc of the quake in all its electric kineticism as Jeff Hirshfield’s roiling drums boil underneath. The sounds are disturbing but recreate the chaos and trauma of the event.

Part 2 of the suite, entitled “Renewal,” is appropriately uplifting. The music is played brilliantly by Sadigursky on alto and Baum on flute with Escreet’s flittering piano work, all conjuring up images of Phoenix-like new growth making its purposeful way into the sunshine and through destruction of the aftermath of the earthquake.

Part 3 “Contemplation” is a gorgeous chamber piece with sounds of French Horn, Bass Clarinet and trumpet all intertwining with booming bass lines, subtle brush strokes and carefully placed piano notes to create a tapestry of sound. Escreet’s piano solo is superb in both its flawless execution and aural beauty.

“Joyful Lament” is perhaps the most memorable of the songs on the album. It is based on a melody by the Pakistani vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahan called “Lament.” Baum admits to having arranged the composition with guitarist Brad Shepik in mind and he does not disappoint. The band plays on as Shepik builds his own searing guitar lines into an ascension of sorts, taking his solo into the heavens with his own blend of rock-inspired shredding. This is an easy candidate for most inspired instrumental solo of the year.

“Mantra” is a drone-like creation that finds Baum’s echoed flute in interplay with Navin Chettri’s haunting  voice and twanging tanpura. The music is mystical and the lightly played gongs make it a meditative piece.

“U Cross Me” is the album’s finale and starts off with some syncopated piano notes by Escreet and percussion by Jamie Haddad. The horns and reeds play in a downwardly cascading pattern that is quite unusual. Then they all come together in a display of precise synchronicity. Hirshfield and Lober lay down a more traditional driving rhythmic structure over which the group plays. The syncopation continues as all the instruments find their voice in a cacophony of expression before Shepik’s guitar breaks it all open with another scorching solo.

With Bridges Jamie Baum has somehow managed to span the gap between multiple musical traditions and successfully integrate them all into a coherent genre that is all its own.

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