North Sea Jazz Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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The extended Jamie Baum septet, a nine-piece ensemble—existing now for more than eight years—was clearly a group of special shape and sound, with leader Baum joined by alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Douglas Yates, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and French hornist Chris Komer on the front line; guitarist Brad Shepik and pianist John Escreet; plus three musicians that were the group's heartbeat—double bassist Francois Moutin, drummer Jeff Hirshfield and tablaist Dan Weiss. Having seen this remarkable group at the North Sea Jazz Festival, it was even more remarkable that this group was not programmed by other European festivals. The ensemble played music of serene translucent spaciousness, suffused by richly swirling and fluttering instrumental colors. At first listen, the ensemble's abundant sound, its light flow and gently (pro)pulsing rhythmical undercurrent felt familiar, like a warm breeze, but also radiated a kind of remote arcane sensation still carefully to be uncovered. Gradually this was revealed in the second piece that appeared to have been designed after "Sweet Pain," a song by famous sufi-singer Nusrat Ali Khan. Later, some other transformed Khan songs (from his albums Nightsongs and Mustt Mustt) followed. The way Baum transformed and subtly inscribed characteristics of Khan's music into her ensemble's music appeared to be of a distinguished quality. The characteristics of Khan's music could be sensed clearly throughout, without ever becoming dominant or rendering the music overtly exotic, imitative or plundered.

When listening in detail, certain elements of Indian or Latin music could be discerned, but they disappeared in and were engrossed by the intricate structures and rich textures, rather focused listening. The most recognizable cues came from Shepik and Jamie Baum—and, of course, the tabla from well-known drummer Dan Weiss. All are experienced in Oriental and Indian music, but strictly avoided imitating or faking exotic styles. They played with a real feel for it and focused on the transformation and coloring of Baum's compositions, as in the group's version of "The Meeting" (with a stunning high register pizzicato by Moutin) and "The Game" (from Mustt Mustt). The intriguing entanglement of spare pellucidity, intense rhythmical undercurrent and inner perpetual rotation brought to mind the music of Gil Evans.

Besides Baum's great blending of voices in the collective sound of the ensemble, there were some memorable individual moments; "Monkeys of Gokarna Forest" seemed tailor- made for Escreet, a piece that referred to a siege by a troop of monkeys during a tour stop at Nepal's Katmandu Jazz Festival. There were more significant moments for Escreet, as we'll as for other players, all demonstrating the remarkably strong intercommunion that this group has achieved.

It was a stroke of luck that the programmers of the festival not only recognized the extraordinary quality of the ensemble but finally also booked it. The festival would make a still stronger mark in favor of artistic quality if something like this could not only be carefully programmed in a quality hall, as it was, but also highlighted even more firmly as a special part of the festival that is clearly visible to its visitors.

Photo by Henning Bolte


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