The Jazz.com Blog
February 02, 2009 · 0 comments
Ralph Miriello, a regular contributor to jazz.com, recently selected flautist Jamie Baum’s new CD Solace as one of his favorite recordings of last year. Now he reports on Baum’s performance at Joe’s Pub. T.G.
Flautist and composer Jamie Baum brought her septet to Joe’s Pub for a rare one-night performance featuring the music of her recent fine release Solace. Baum made it known that this performance was also a ten year anniversary celebration of sorts for the band—they have been working on this unique style of orchestrated improvisational jazz since 1999.
This was my first trip to Joe’s Pub and I found it a warm and inviting venue that probably holds close to one hundred and fifty patrons comfortably. It is part of Joseph Papp’s non-profit Public Theater on Lafayette Street on the lower east side of Manhattan. It prides itself on being a non-genre specific venue. Artists from the Cowboy Junkies to Lee Konitz (and now Baum) have graced this venue since the late nineties. The stage is elevated and the rear wall of the stage has an acoustical foam treatment that mimics the feel of a recording studio. Opposite the stage is a generous bar that is also elevated and in between there are tables and a section of comfortable looking upholstered lounges. All vantage points have a good view of the performance stage.
In today’s world, where music that is outside of the mainstream has fewer economic avenues to support it, Baum has been able to flourish within her self-defining niche. She is a recipient of a Doris Duke award that laudably commissioned her with a grant, allowing her to concentrate on the composition of this marvelous music without regard to commercial viability. Joined on stage with fellow musicians, George Colligan on piano, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Doug Yates on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Chris Komer on French horn, Johannes Weidenmueller on upright bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums, Baum plays both flute and alto flute, as well as composed all the music for this performance.
Baum is a slight woman who has a shy, almost academic air to her countenance. Contrary to the image she projects at first impression, she is a forceful composer and an impassioned player. She has the musical muscle to tame the talents of six musicians so that they all perform with her unified vision.
The set started out with a composition called “Inner Voices” which served as a good warm-up for the band and featured a French horn solo by Komer. Baum’s use of instruments that are out of the mainstream of jazz. Yates’s bass clarinet and Baum’s own alto flute-gives her compositions a unique chamber music sensibility.
On “Solace,” the title tune from her latest release, Colligan and Weidenmueller set the stage for this haunting melody. Baum has mastered the art of pairing the voicings of multiple instruments; on this tune Alessi’s trumpet and Baum’s alto flute. It seemed that she and Alessi were not quite in sync at first, nonetheless they moved through the brief miscommunication with grace before the additional voices of Komer and Yates were brought in, effectively complimenting the continuity of the overall piece. This is a superb composition using its feathery, gossamer qualities to sail through the melody gently. I am reminded of the sound of a light breeze rustling through the leaves of a stand of aspens that one hears in the solitude of an early morning ride on a ski-lift chair in the Wasatch mountains. This is impressionistic music at its best.
Baum introduced a new song this evening titled “Ants and Other Fateful Bugs” which she noted was inspired by the work of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who has worked with Peter Gabriel, and whose vocal inflections are astounding. The composition showed promise but the performance revealed a creation that was still unfamiliar and a bit rough on the edges. Pianist Colligan took an athletic solo that combined elements of raw funk and heavy chord based poundings ala Cecil Taylor. Colligan is a dynamic inventive player and is prolific on the New York Musical scene. He is a fine accompanist but one senses that he may be straining to break loose from the confines of this format.
“Far Side,” another song from Solace, featured Baum on flute and Alessi on trumpet. Baum is a marvelous player in her own right. It was a little difficult to fully appreciate the nuances on her playing because of the way she was miked. Alessi has made some fine recordings and so I was anxious to see him perform in person. He did a yeoman’s job with most of the material although I found his solos a bit hollow and uninspired, perhaps just an off night.
Baum referred to her association with keyboard wizard Richie Beirach who encouraged her to write something rubato or shifting time. “Richie’s Lament” was her dedication to him and featured an exciting bass clarinet solo by Yates.
“Pine Creek” from Solace offered a hypnotic bass line by Weidenmueller with a nice call and response segment between Alessi and Baum. When Colligan was featured on piano he provided the most stirring musical animation of the evening, standing out with his creative explorations and powerful yet fluid technique. In watching the other front line musicians on the stage during his solo, they appeared somewhat disconnected from his efforts. Baum alone seemed to be engrossed in Colligan’s improvisational acumen.
Despite the longevity of this group, there seems to be a missing element not evident in the studio work. It is the nature of larger groups that they have limited viable opportunities to perform and thus play on a regular basis, developing along the way that empathetic language between musicians so vital to the energy of live performances. Most of these musicians have multiple opportunities and commitments of their own, which understandably makes scheduling a challenge. The prodding interplay that can be so compelling was in short supply especially in the improvised parts of the program.
Nevertheless this was a rewarding evening of music and Baum has successfully forged an appealing path with her work. This is music that is slightly askew of the mainstream but maintains a voice that demands to be heard for its sheer musical ingenuity and sophistication.
This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.