I’d never heard of pianist Noah Baerman before receiving his new album; I’d also never heard of EDS, a serious condition affecting the body’s connective tissue from which the 30-year-old suffers. And I probably wouldn’t mention EDS at the top of this review was it not for the fact that Baerman intended Patch Kit as both a fund- and consciousness-raiser for the little known condition.
According to the liner notes, EDS makes sustained physical exertion difficult and painful, which makes the limited time Baerman can spend at the piano bench “sacred time.” But while he’s had to cut back his live performance schedule as a result of EDS (he maintains an active career as an educator and author of piano instruction books), it’s hard to hear any way in which Baerman’s playing has been compromised by his condition. And he’d better be at the top of his game, since he’s brought in the formidable rhythm section of Ron Carter and Ben Riley to join him for what he acknowledges may be a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Fortunately, Baerman has the chops to more than hold his own with this estimable company. With an exceptionally light touch and rich melodic phrasing, Baerman leads the trio through a set of mostly mid-tempo post-bop originals and some well-chosen covers. Along with considerable compositional skill, Baerman’s tunes feature an element too often missing in jazz and noteworthy here given the album’s stated goals: humor. One of his songs is titled “Bye Bye Backhand,” after the tennis hobby his EDS forced him to give up; another is an impressive left-hand-only blues titled “Limb-itations,” dedicated to artists like Horace Parlan, Tom Harrell and others who’ve faced and overcome challenges of their own. Baerman’s also cunning in his choice of covers, mocking the self-pitying tone of the chestnut “Everything Happens to Me,” while embracing the spirit and defiance of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” which features Carter’s booming bass in a lead role. Continuing the positive vibe, Baerman closes the album with a moving solo take on Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”
Much more than just a commendable exercise in education and humanitarianism, this is a wonderful and inspiring musical journey that’s a testament to the power of jazz, humor and positive energy to turn a challenging situation into one of joy and hope.
Track Listing: 1 Bye Bye Backhand (Baerman) 6:35
2 Yasa Fragitida (Baerman) 5:00
3 Everything Happens to Me (Adair/Dennis) 4:59
4 Limb-itations (Left Hand Blues for Junior) (Baerman) 5:37
5 Patch Kit (Baerman) 8:24
Personnel: Noah Baerman, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Ben Riley, drums