Label: Sunnyside Records, 2018
Personnel – Jamie Baum: flutes, singing bowl; Amir ElSaffar: trumpet, voice; Sam Sadigursky: alto sax, bass clarinet; Chris Komer: french horn; Brad Shepik: guitar; John Escreet: piano; Zack Lober: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums + guests Jamey Haddad: percussion; Navin Chettri: percussion, voice, tanpura.
Jamie Baum, an in-demand flutist based in New York and a prominent figure on the current jazz scene, gathered her acclaimed Septet+ in order to release Bridges. Co-produced with the pianist Richie Beirach, the album is a multicultural feast that straddles the boundaries between various musical styles. Here, the contemporary jazz is interlaced with Arabic/maqam, Jewish, and South Asian musical traditions.
The exotic scale inherent to “From The Well”, the odd-metered piece that starts the session, suggests all those influences. Typical rock harmonic movements intercalate with the improvisations, with Baum introducing that section by delivering dexterous phrases while having Brad Shepik's cracking guitar comping in the background. Also, Sam Sadigursky conducts his fluid bass clarinet counting on the suaveness of John Escreet’s piano to support his moves. At a later stage, employing swirling techniques with both hands, the pianist becomes crucial in the creation of an avant-garde scenario that best fits Amir ElSaffar’s foreign world of fascination. The piano then acquires dreamy tones while Jeff Hirshfield’s drumming gets sprightly with cymbal preponderance. For the finale, sonic layers are tied up together, deep-laid by the competent horn section.
Influenced by a Jewish prayer and conveying a celestial peace, “Song Without Words” sounds superbly sweet-toned in the voice of ElSaffar, who got melodic support from Chris Komer’s French horn and the woodwinds. Baum penned this song in memory of her late father S. James Baum.
Hirshfield’s way of brushing the drums here is intimately relaxing, and he shows it again on “Contemplation”, the third and last part of Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite, which is Baum's response to the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake. The first two movements are “The Earthquake” - initiated with singing bowl and piano, followed by a low-pressure chamber section slowly invaded by the stormy winds of Shepik and Hirshfield - and “Renewal”, which advances confidently through a priceless rhythmic disentanglement in five. Featuring percussionist Jamey Haddad, this piece exposes piano and guitar in strict textural collaboration, and also shows Baum and Sadigursky alternating bars while improvising.
Deriving from a melody of Pakistani Qawwali vocal master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, “Joyful Lament” was arranged with Shepik’s guitar as the main focus, and the guitarist reacted with a monumental solo filled not just with blazing flames and impactful distortion but also with an open soul. It is definitely one of the boldest and most delightful moments on the album.
“Mantra” features Nepali musician Navin Chettri, who sumptuously plays tanpura and sings with a penetrating timbre. The embraced mood clashes with the one in “Ucross Me”, which almost feels like an electronic exercise due to repetitive multi-pitched phrases. Bassist Zack Lober ultimately locks a funky groove that validates ElSaffar's motivation to coloring unabashedly until Shepik appears in big once again.
Jamie Baum intelligently fuses the earthly and the spiritual, the modern and the tradition, in a lavish, catchable effort that extracts multiple abilities from this brilliant cast of players. Crossing these ‘bridges’ signifies to live rich musical experiences. What are you waiting for?
01 - From The Well ► 05 - Renewal ► 07 - Joyful Lament