Baum's talents are distinctly twofold; she is one of the leading flutists in jazz but is also deeply involved in composition, which she studied at both the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. Jamie has received a number of grants and commissions for her compositions, most recently this one from Chamber Music America, their "New Works: Creation and Presentation Award," part of their "America Jazz Ensembles Project," which derives its funding from the Doris Duke Foundation. The commission specifically calls for a work to be written for an established jazz ensemble. Jamie chose to prepare some pieces for her working septet, based on the music of Charles Ives. After performances in New Orleans and Burlington Vermont, paid for by the grant, she wanted to add a New York performance and the Bahá'í Center auditorium was the ideal venue.
The concert featured the commissioned work, Ives Suite: The Time Traveler, as the final selection in a program of several loosely related pieces. The Septet consisted of Baum on flutes, Ralph Alessi on trumpet & flugelhorn, Doug Yates, alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Chris Komer on French horn, Martin Wind, a last-minute replacement for Johannes Weidenmuller on bass, George Colligan on piano, and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. Opening the program was Spring Rounds, a piece from Jamie's most recent CD Moving Forward, Standing Still on OmniTone, (which showed up on several "best CDs of 2004" lists, including those in DownBeat and Jazziz magazines) and which is based on, or inspired by, Stravinsky's Rites of Spring.
The pieces that followed reflected Baum's interest in Ives, but again, in many ways, they were more inspired by than based on the famous American composer. The CMA grant gave Jamie time to reflect on, and study Ives' work for a period of time before finally selecting a theme or themes to serve as the basis of the Ives Suite. In the interim, she wrote a number of pieces that more generally reflected the moods and perceptions inspired by the process itself. Four of these were presented on this occasion, including Tag, Pine Creek, In Passing, and the temporarily named Ives' Blues. All of these presented the color pallette that the septet has been exploring over the last three or four years, with Jamie's angular but always coherent themes providing the framework for extended soloing, Jamie's full-toned flute leading the way but with ample room for Alessi, Yates and Colligan, plus contributions from Wind and Komer. These are all accomplished soloists in a hard-edged, post-Coltrane mode, and the interest level was consistent throughout the set, gaining in fluency and cohesion as the players warmed up.
If there were any shortcomings to the performance, it was that the lack of a grand piano was a problem for Colligan who had to work with an electric keyboard that did not have quite the right sound for this material. As for the writing, it should be said that I would have been blissfully unaware of the material's connection with Charles Ives had I not known about it beforehand. This would not have prevented me from enjoying a fine set by the septet, and it is perfectly legitimate for a composer's musical experiences to re-emerge as an unconscious component of original music. Only the pre-amble led me to expect music that more directly reflected the sound and spirit of Charles Ives' music. All of this notwithstanding, it was an engaging performance, and I look forward both to Jamie Baum's next project and, when she has raised some more money, to the recording of this one.
For more information on Jamie Baum go to: www.jamiebaum.com
To learn more about Jazz Tuesdays at The John Birks Gillespie Auditorium at the New York Bahá'í center go to: www.bahainyc.org/jazz.html or call 212-222-5159.