The Jamie Baum Septet
London Jazz Festival, Kings Place, London 17/11/18
The stage was set in room 2, King’s place, an intimate space, blue filtered light and smoke – a new one on me for a jazz gig.
From the first number, Nusrat, based on a vocal improvisation from the late Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which Jamie had transcribed, it was bam! — straight in, no nonsense, fast and tight. Jamie was using an effects pedal on the flute. Chris Komer on the French horn, (an instrument not seen so much on the jazz scene) played a great solo. Sam Sadigursky’s alto sax was adventurous, while Brad Shepik’s guitar had more of a rock feel. Very structured arrangements, each solo a set number of bars, with the written motif in between, played incredibly fast yet meticulous, with a repetitive urgency, and, at this speed, quite breathtaking. A sharp intake of breath as the sudden ending took us by surprise.
The second number, Joyful Lament, took a turn of mood, slow paced, relaxed, the harmonies reminding me of Maria Schneider – very beautiful. It turned out to be a guitar feature, Shepik‘s solo again leaning towards rock, with the drummer doing a rock thing emphasizing the third beat. Jamie had her alto flute for this one, and the sound was great – miked with a pick up, it was spot on.
Number 3: From the Well. This one was, again, a pretty fast and furious number in a complex time signature, the bass player Zack Lober coming to the fore. It built and built to a crescendo, with Luis Perdomo’s imaginative piano playing, then a longer solo from trumpeter Amir El-Saffar. Jamie was pushing the range on her alto flute, which is notoriously difficult to pitch; but no worries for her here. I was mystified how they all knew when to come in, but that is the arrangement and the skill level of the players.
The fourth piece — Song Without Words, written in honour of Jamie’s late father. First the piano, a slow thoughtful introduction, then accompanied voice, like a lament. The singing, by Amir in Maqam style, derived from Kol Nidre (כָּל נִדְרֵי), a jewish liturgical melody played on the evening at the beginning of Yom Kippur*, was clearly full of meaning, prayerful, a kind of crying/calling; clearly this would mean much to people connected to the culture/religion. Even without this association it still transmitted all sorts of feelings, the overall sensation one of sadness, reflection, possibly grief. The voice was then joined by Sadigursky on bass clarinet. He has a great sound on this instrument, clear, warm and rounded. Before you knew what had happened all the instruments were there and, with a change of key, we had moved into a rich texture over which Jamie soloed on her alto flute, her sound ‘dry’ with a really nice ‘bite’ to it and fantastic intonation.
Finally in the first set Jamie introduced the last number, While We Are Here, written for a cousin of hers who had died at a young age. Again some interesting time signatures going on. Moving writing. Solos from piano, trumpet, flute, bass, sax. Jamie is totally in command of her instrument. Her time is all there and the speed of the lines are impressive; she plays them with ease. For my taste, perhaps a bit more space could have opened things out a bit, but she wasn’t afraid to hold notes and to stretch them.
This first set took us on an emotional roller coaster ride, exploring a huge range of emotions. The second set opened with The Game. Again, lots of complexity, odd time signatures; the level of concentration must be extremely demanding, even if they have rehearsed it to a fault. Some lovely interplay here between the flute and trumpet. I’ve always thought these instruments have much in common – essentially tubes of metal relying on the players’ embouchure.
There are no Words: The next number saw some lovely use of unison playing between the alto sax and C flute – very tight. This is a difficult thing to do well; you have to have your timing really together. Then another unison section between the trumpet and guitar, and then an opportunity for the bass to come to the fore – nice playing, warm sound, moving around the instrument with melodic lines. No drum feature yet, and I felt the drums overall a bit too controlled, keeping it all on the beat; I prefer the risk of implied time occasionally, with a freer ebb and flow; perhaps the intricacy of the writing needed this anchor. Once more the band all came in together, seemingly out of nowhere, to finish the number with a clean cut.
The third piece was from the Shiva Suite inspired by Jamie’s visit to South Asia, particularly the Katmandu (Nepal) Jazz Festival where Jamie was a guest on two occasions, performing and collaborating with the organisers. After the 2015 earthquake Jamie did a benefit concert and visited a Himalayan Art exhibition where a painting of Shiva caught her imagination. Jamie introduced the piece, going through the three phases: the earthquake, then renewal, then contemplation.
The lighting dimmed and some echo was added to the general mix, setting the meditative start to the piece. There was the haunting sound of a singing bowl which I found quite visceral. Slowly the volume level increased and there was a sense of dissonance and disharmony, the drums playing an important role here. The piece then took a turn and the time began to groove. Sadigursky on alto sax dug in deep. I could sense he had a lot to give; his playing was earthy and exciting. The bass and guitar locked in together as a feature. That was nice, but again my overall feeling was that it was very tightly controlled and this manifested itself, I felt, as things being a bit tense.
The last piece, UCross Me Jamie introduced as being inspired by her stay at an artists colony. Another unison start to the tune – this time C flute and guitar – had an effect like an echo loop. Then trumpet and alto sax together. It was fascinating to hear the different combination of timbres and the consequent sound effects – clever. The trumpet took on a Maqam flavour towards the end, and in this piece the pianist played a Rhodes keyboard.
Overall, tight, meticulous, great sound/balance, and Jamie was getting a superb sound from her instrument.
It takes a lot of hard work to get a band like this together and play at this level. I take my hat off to her. It is particularly good to see a women in the driving seat in a band such as this, as, sadly, I have to say, this is still the exception not the norm.[* Editor’s note: This refers to the traditional Aramaic chant, not the settings by Max Bruch, Arnold Schoenberg or John Zorn]
Jamie Baum — flute, alto flute; Amir El-Saffar – trumpet, voice; Sam Sadigursky – alto sax, bass clarinet; Chris Komer — French horn; Brad Shepik — guitar; Luis Perdomo – piano; Zack Lober – bass, singing bowl; Jeff Hirshfield – drums
Review by Fiona McSorley.
Fiona McSorley is active as a flautist on the London Jazz Scene. She has appeared regularly at London performances of the Jazz Flute Big Band International.
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