Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ms. Baum's Balm + Ms. Victor's Conquest

Firehouse 12's Fall Concert Series continues apace; in fact, the series picks up the pace with 7 concerts in the final 5 weeks. This Friday (November 15), the performance space/recording studio welcomes the Jamie Baum Septet for 2 shows.  Ms. Baum, a fine flutist/composer/arranger whose wonderful new CD "In This Life" (Sunnyside Records) is reviewed below, brings a band, many of whom she has worked with for over a decade.  Longest serving member is drummer Jeff Hirschfield who has been on every one of Ms. Baum's 5 Cds as a leader, starting in 1992 with "Undercurrents" (issued on the German Konnex label.) Next would be Douglas Yates (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) who has worked in the ensemble for over 10 years as has Chris Komer (french horn) who usually does not tour. Rounding out the Septet (on the record and in New Haven) is Amir ElSaffar (trumpet), Brad Shepik (guitar), Zach Lober (bass) and John Escreet (piano) - both ElSaffar and Escreet have been at Firehouse 12 this fall when the trumpeter appeared to spotlight his new Pi Recording, "Alchemy."

The music on the new CD has a number of inspirations but none stronger than the music of the great Pakistani Quawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997).  In fact, the opening and closing tracks bear his name, with the final track also including an arrangement of his "Sweet Pain."  What stands out is the beautiful blend of ElSaffar's trumpeter with the leader's alto flute.  The melody, based on a vocal improvisation by Ali Khan is so exciting and rhythmically strong, especially in the opening selection (where it is powered by Dan Weiss's impressive tabla work.  Ms. Baum also adopted a piece titled "Tana Dery Na" into "The Meeting", a ballad featuring fine ensemble work plus a strong solo from bassist Lober, the latter half of which is shared with the flute D'Amore, an instrument pitched between a C-flute and an alto flute.

Another inspiration is co-producer Richie Bierach; he produced the flutist's second CD, "Sight Unheard" (GM Music), has performed in a duo setting with her and one can hear his musical influence, especially on the title track as well as the piece dedicated to him, "Richie's Lament."  His "touch" is notable in the clarity of the melodies and the uncluttered arrangements. Each instrument stands out as not only "playing its role" in the music but also how Ms. Baum weaves the individual sounds together.  That "weave" truly stands out on "While We Are Here", in how the "low" sounds of the acoustic bass and bass clarinet mesh with the soft trap set and piano.  Yes, there is a gentle feel but also a forward motion, a flow, that engages the listener from the start.

Don't overlook the work that Brad Shepik and John Escreet put into the music. The guitarist offers strong ensemble work throughout the program and can be heard wailing over the rhythm section on the opening cut as well as his creative "percussive" guitar sounds on "In A Nutshell". The pianist, whose new Whirlwind CD "Sabotage and Celebration" is a must-hear, also fits the ensemble like a glove, standing out for his supportive work and his forceful solos - my, how he dives into the funky beats of Hirschfield, Weiss and guest percussionist Samuel Torres on "Ants and Other Faithful Beings."

There is not a weak song nor an incomplete arrangement anywhere on "In This Life."  The manner in which Jamie Baum wraps different rhythms, tempi and melodies into pieces such as "Nusrat" and "Ants..." illustrates her deep understanding of how to weave musics of the world into the music she has developed over the past 20+ years.  On top of that, her playing is often exquisite, stimulating and commanding.  For more information, go to - to hear and to download the recording, go to

For information about the Septet's appearance in New Haven, go to  The following evening, a Quintet version of the group appears at The Side Door in Old Lyme, CT - for more information, go to  This venue has got quite a schedule coming up including the Duke Robillard Trio (11/21), the Rene McLean Sextet with Gary Bartz (!) (11/23), the Glenn Zaleski Trio with bassist Dezron Douglas (11/29) and the Donny McCaslin Trio (12/05) - that's just a few of the date so clink on the link above to find out more.

Sometimes, one could consider vocalist/lyricist/bandleader Fay Victor a force of nature.  Over the past few years, Ms. Victor has made inroads into the creative music scene with her no-holds-barred, improvisational, approach to music.  Along with bassist Ken Filiano and guitarist Anders Nilsson, she is creating music that breaks barriers while being true to Whitney Balliett's description of jazz as "the sound of surprise."  "Absinthe & Vermouth" (Greene Avenue Music) is the Fay Victor Ensemble's 3rd CD and first without a drummer. Yet, who needs s trap drummer when all 3 members of the group contribute to "rhythm section", whether it's the scratching beat of Nilsson's electric guitar, Filiano's forceful strumming or how his bow bounces off the strings or Ms. Victor's snare drum-like approach to particular phrases of the lyrics.

Just listen to the opening track "Big Bag."  Basically, it's a list of what the singer/composer (husband Jochem van Dijk is her collaborator on every track) keeps in her travel bag but the accompanying music combines the late 60s blues feel of Jimi Hendrix with vocals that channel opera, poet/performer Jayne Cortez, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and others still to be discovered.  During the solo section, the guitarists roams far afield while the bassist creates a thunderstorm beneath.  Yet, both musicians return to the "main theme" easily, organically, and with great panache.  Her duo with Filiano on the final track "Shaded in Grey" blends playful vocals from both (sounding somewhat like Charles Mingus in the late 50s) - it's an argument that Filiano takes part in as both musician and vocalist.

Ms. Victor's ballad work is often stunning, with an emotional depth that pulls the listener closer.  "Crystal" is just voice and guitar; the weaving of sounds, silence, words and music seems so personal yet universal.  There is a similar feel to "Seashore", the music like a calm ocean, the voice like a sift breeze creating an intimacy that is tangible and sensuous without feeling forced.

There are 2 tracks - "I'm On A Mission/Paper Cup" and "The Sign At The Door" - that are both over 15 minutes and feature distinct sections. The former track comes at the listener with highly-amplified guitar (blues-rock stylings) and mighty, melodic, bass work then goes into a long, quiet, section (listen closely and you can hear Ms. Victor whispering words and percussive sounds in the background) before the FVE drops into a super-slow melody for Ms. Victor to sing sweetly about love and the issues one faces in relationships.  The latter tells the story of a day in Weimar, Germany, and the lyrics relate the dichotomy of the modern city and the insanity that enveloped the townspeople during the Hitler years. That craziness enters the singer's words as she sings/speaks out "Come and get me"/Another fear lay out that there" and that phrase returns again and again as the narrator moves through the city. "Brutal air is all that is needed here/Clear" makes the song turn darker (as the music becomes more frenetic.  There seems to be no clear resolution (can there be?) but the singer continues to "..walk through the town square/enjoy the warm sky down there" and seems to come to terms with her visit.

Filiano's wonderfully active unaccompanied bass leads us into "Gunk", a joyous description of cleaning out the "garbage" we cart around in our psyches.  Nilsson's hard-scrabble guitar work and rapid-fire rhythm lines move easily around Filiano's vigorous bass lines.  The soaring vocal lines, the growling phrases, the bluesy scatting, all contribute to the joy that inhabits this track.

"Absinthe & Vermouth" is filled with music that thrills those listeners who love a challenge (and might scare the devil out of purists). It's easy to hear the Fay Victor Ensemble are a trio of equals - no one steals (or hogs) the spotlight and the creative interplay speaks of years of interaction, of paying attention to each other and enjoying the challenges that these compositions pose.  As an active listener, take your time and enjoy this aural roller-coaster. For more information, go to

A reminder - Ms. Victor joins Stephen Haynes (trumpets) and Joe Morris (guitar, bass) this coming Saturday November 16 at 7 p.m. as part of the monthly "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street in Hartford. A splendid time is in the offing for all!  For more information, go to or call 860-232-1006.

No comments:

Post a Comment