Hailed by DownBeat Magazine for her "remarkable artistic facility" and by The New York Times for her "remarkable balance of fluidity and restless creativity," New York-based flutist/composer and 2014 Guggenheim Fellow Jamie Baum is proud to announce the release of her sixth CD as a leader, Bridges, featuring The Jamie Baum Septet+. The highly anticipated follow-up to her 2013 recording In This Life, Bridges offers yet another recording of incredible depth, beauty, spirituality, undiluted zeal and is the culmination of Baum's search for common links between some of the world's great religious music traditions. While conducting research for her Guggenheim Fellowship Award, Baum explains, "I found there to be very deep connections going back centuries, between certain types of Jewish music (my earliest musical influences), and Muslim/Arabic and Hindu/South Asian music." Exploring these musical connections, and composing new music inspired by her findings, became the focus of Bridges.
Baum's advanced harmonic sensibility and sonic imagination, beautifully brought to life by the stellar members of her long-running ensemble, proves yet again the capacity of modern jazz to absorb and transform music of diverse traditions, without sacrificing the improvisatory element at the core of jazz's identity. In her album notes Baum cites Wikipedia's definition of the word "bridge," one that seems to sum up her artistic mission here: "a structure built to span physical obstacles without closing the way underneath." At the same time, Baum's musical wanderings highlight something even deeper: our shared humanity, and the common threads that run throughout our history.
With great respect for these varied traditions and their vast languages, Baum's goal was not to play or compose exactly in these styles, but to have her travels and playing experiences inspire new ways of writing and improvising. The diverse musicians who make up the Jamie Baum Septet+ are all first-call artists on the jazz scene, many of them accomplished leaders in their own right. Their presence gives Baum limitless compositional freedom and inspiration: "Having specific players to write for is a bandleader/composer's dream and offers an incredible opportunity for experimentation and growth," she says. We hear this borne out in the lyrical melodies, intricate contrapuntal passages and complex rhythmic ideas at the heart of Bridges, and in the textural warmth and surprise of Sam Sadigursky's alto sax and bass clarinet, Brad Shepik's guitar, Amir ElSaffar's trumpet and voice, John Escreet's dazzlingly virtuosic piano and of course Baum's compelling improvisations on flute and alto flute throughout the album.
Baum's fascination with world sacred music traditions stemmed from her love of South Asian music and in particular for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistan's late Qawwali vocal master. Her previous album In This Life was inspired by Khan's legacy, because she "found in him what I have found in those musicians who have touched me, like Coltrane, Miles and Pavarotti...a truly gifted, deeply spiritual and soulful artist," Baum writes in her album notes. Expanding her focus from Qawwali outward to other forms of religious music, Baum arrived at the focus of Bridges.
Khan's influence is also felt on "Joyful Lament," derived from a melody of Khan's called "Lament," Baum explains. This piece was arranged with Shepik's guitar in mind, and "his solo certainly exceeds anything I could have imagined," Baum enthuses.
In addition to her study of Khan, Baum's travels to India and especially Jazzmandu, the Kathmandu Jazz Festival, in 2003 and again in 2009, widened her musical horizons immeasurably. The three-movement "Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite," a centerpiece of Bridges, represents Baum's wish to give back to a community that has given her so much. The piece was commissioned by the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in New York. "It was difficult to watch the pain and destruction the 2015 earthquake caused to the beautiful people and historic sites in Nepal, including musicians I knew and places I'd been," Baum writes. "I knew I wanted to highlight and pay tribute in some way to this event and found inspiration in a painting of Shiva ... a pan-Hindu deity revered widely by Hindus in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Shiva is the 'destroyer of evil and the transformer' within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is the Supreme Being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. Completely contradictory aspects of life have been built into the personality of Shiva.... A particular 'thank you' to my rhythm section [Escreet, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Jeff Hirshfield] for their drive, sensitivity and expertise in navigating and highlighting the changing colors, dynamics and intensity, giving so much meaning to the arc and intent of this suite!"
The Nepali influence emerges again on "Mantra," arranged by Baum with Nepali musician Navin Chettri, who plays tanpura and sings on the track. The tune is based on Mahamrityunjaya Mantra "meant for healing, rejuvenation and nurturance," Baum writes. "According to Shiva Purana when you have fear of any unknown event this chant helps you to overcome the fear. The Shiva Purana is the highest science of elevating human nature to the very peak of consciousness, expressed in the form of very beautiful stories."
"From the Well" opens the album with the sound of a scale "common to Maqam, Jewish and South Asian music," writes Baum. "Song Without Words," a tribute to Baum's late father, highlights the composer's Jewish influence - in particular the Kol Nidre prayer so central to the holiday of Yom Kippur. "There Are No Words," with its relaxed straight-eighth feel and beautiful chamber-like interplay within the ensemble, revisits the theme of loss as well. And the closing track, "Ucross Me," was written during Baum's residency at the UCross Artist Colony in Clearmont, Wyoming in March 2015. It's a piece "about crossing boundaries and connecting influences," Baum writes, encapsulating the theme of Bridges as a whole.
In addition to her Guggenheim Fellowship (an honor she shared the same year with Steve Coleman and Elliott Sharp), Baum was awarded the 2017 New Music USA Project Grant and selected as a 2014-15 Norman Stevens Fellow during her MacDowell Colony residency. Baum's exemplary career has been built on superlative performances in the studio and on stages around the world, alongside a long list of renowned jazz artists including Randy Brecker, Mick Goodrick, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch, Uri Caine, Ralph Alessi, David Binney, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and many others. She has placed in the DownBeat Critics' Polls annually since 1998 and has been nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association as "Flutist of the Year" eight times; the Jamie Baum Septet+ was nominated in 2014 as "Best Midsize Ensemble of the Year" in the same category as the Wayne Shorter Quartet and Steve Coleman's Five Elements. She has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, International Jazz Composers Alliance, Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America and the American Music Center. Her playing credits include tours as a State Dept./Kennedy Center Jazz Ambassador, in 1999 to South America and in 2002 to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Bangladesh. Baum has served on the faculty of the jazz department at Manhattan School of Music since 2007 and on the adjunct faculty roster at the New School University since 2004. Altus Flutes/KHS America has sponsored her innovative clinic "A Fear-Free Approach to Improvisation for the Classically Trained Musician"™ at colleges, conservatories, festivals, flute clubs and "music and art" schools worldwide since 1993.