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Jamie Baum in Washington

The Jamie Baum Quartet with Ken Wessel The Jamie Baum Quartet with Ken Wessel
Since the demise of the One Step Down, Twins Jazz, along with its sister club Twins Lounge, remains one of the few active jazz clubs in the Washington DC area, and the main alternative to the considerably pricier Georgetown establishment Blues Alley. Founded in 1986 by Ethiopian twin sisters, the club is still run in the most hands-on style, with owner Kelley Tesfaye in the kitchen supervising the menu of American, Ethiopian and Carribean dishes (I am particularly fond of the sweet plantain appetizer, and the red snapper in a creole sauce!), rather than just coming in at the end of the night to count the receipts! As for the music, the club presents an equally balanced menu of big name, up-and-coming, and local artists. Artists scheduled for August weekends include David ‘Fathead' Newman, Bud Shank, and Alto Saxophone Summit with Charlie Young, Marty Nau, and Marshall Keys, and the Wednesday and Sunday jam sessions provide one of the few opportunities for local musicians to learn their trade the old fashioned way! According to The Washingtonian Online "As jazz clubs go, this is the real thing." (For details of both music and dining menus, go to: http://twinsjazz.com)

July 22nd/23rd's performances presented an example some of the up-and-coming artists who come down from New York to play at Twins. Flutist Jamie Baum (www.jamiebaum.com) has just made the transition from Rising Star to Established Artist in the flute category of this month's Down Beat Critics Poll. For this occasion she brought in her quartet featuring the excellent Kenny Wessel on guitar and a rhythm section--Carlo De Rosa on bass and Russ Meissner on drums--that demonstrated the fecundity of the New York jazz gene pool!

Baum is known as much for her composition skills as for her flute work, appearing frequently with a septet designed to feature her writing, much of which is supported by various grants and awards. Much as I have enjoyed this material (see my review of Baum's recent performance at the New York Baha'i Center), it was refreshing to hear her in a smaller and more relaxed setting. Relieved of the responsibilities of directing a larger ensemble, Baum can address the equally interesting challenge posed by the classic horn-plus-rhythm combination. This has been particularly challenging for flutists in jazz, given the instrument's limited range of timbre and dynamics. The solution has typically been inventive soloing and a careful choice of material. Baum and her cohorts exhibited both. Given a greater opportunity to stretch out than the larger ensemble typically allows, Baum dug in and presented fluid and imaginative solos, balanced nicely between bebop and post-Coltrane phrasing, adding variety to the sound by alternating between C and alto flutes. Wessel drives right down the center of the jazz guitar highway, offsetting a warm, mellow, tone with rhythmic vitality and harmonic cunning. De Rosa also revealed himself as a strong soloist when given the opportunity.

As for material, for the first set on Saturday, Baum presented a nice balance between standards and originals. She opened the set with It Could Happen To You, then went on to Chick Corea's Tones For Joan's Bones, Larry Young's Backup, on which she showed that you can indeed play the blues on alto flute, her own Spring Rounds from her recent Moving Forward, Standing Still CD, and a couple of tunes by Wessel his boppish Dinosaur Wash particularly outstanding.

If there was one disappointing aspect to the evening it was the half-empty club. Marketing jazz remains a tricky business and Jamie Baum is not a household name. But there are many fine jazz musicians like Baum, Wessel & Co. playing absorbing music, and most of them are not household names! It is a shame indeed when America's classical music, presented in its purist form, in a comfortable and friendly environment, cannot find an audience in the middle of our nation's capital. Come on Washington, get with the program!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Jamie Baum Quartet with Ken Wessel
  • Concert Date: July 22/23
  • Subtitle: Twins Jazz
  • Venue: Twins Jazz
  • City State Country: Washington D.C.
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