Baum’s advanced harmonic sensibility and sonic imagination, beautifully brought to life by the stellar members of her long-running ensemble, proves yet again the capacity of modern jazz to absorb and transform music of diverse traditions, without sacrificing the improvisatory element at the core of jazz’s identity. In her album notes Baum cites Wikipedia’s definition of the word “bridge,” one that seems to sum up her artistic mission here: “a structure built to span physical obstacles without closing the way underneath.” At the same time, Baum’s musical wanderings highlight something even deeper: our shared humanity, and the common threads that run throughout our history.
Baum’s fascination with world sacred music traditions stemmed from her love of South Asian music and in particular for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistan’s late Qawwali vocal master. Her previous album In This Life was inspired by Khan’s legacy, because she “found in him what I have found in those musicians who have touched me, like Coltrane, Miles and Pavarotti…a truly gifted, deeply spiritual and soulful artist,” Baum writes in her album notes. Expanding her focus from Qawwali outward to other forms of religious music, Baum arrived at the focus of Bridges.
Khan’s influence is also felt on “Joyful Lament,” derived from a melody of Khan’s called “Lament,” Baum explains. This piece was arranged with Shepik’s guitar in mind, and “his solo certainly exceeds anything I could have imagined,” Baum enthuses.
In addition to her study of Khan, Baum’s travels to India and especially Jazzmandu, the Kathmandu Jazz Festival, in 2003 and again in 2009, widened her musical horizons immeasurably. The three-movement “Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite,” a centerpiece of Bridges, represents Baum’s wish to give back to a community that has given her so much. The piece was commissioned by the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in New York. “It was difficult to watch the pain and destruction the 2015 earthquake caused to the beautiful people and historic sites in Nepal, including musicians I knew and places I’d been,” Baum writes. “I knew I wanted to highlight and pay tribute in some way to this event and found inspiration in a painting of Shiva … a pan-Hindu deity revered widely by Hindus in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Shiva is the ‘destroyer of evil and the transformer’ within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is the Supreme Being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. Completely contradictory aspects of life have been built into the personality of Shiva…. A particular ‘thank you’ to my rhythm section [Escreet, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Jeff Hirshfield] for their drive, sensitivity and expertise in navigating and highlighting the changing colors, dynamics and intensity, giving so much meaning to the arc and intent of this suite!”
“From the Well” opens the album with the sound of a scale “common to Maqam, Jewish and South Asian music,” writes Baum. “Song Without Words,” a tribute to Baum’s late father, highlights the composer’s Jewish influence — in particular the Kol Nidre prayer so central to the holiday of Yom Kippur. “There Are No Words,” with its relaxed straight-eighth feel and beautiful chamber-like interplay within the ensemble, revisits the theme of loss as well. And the closing track, “Ucross Me,” was written during Baum’s residency at the UCross Artist Colony in Clearmont, Wyoming in March 2015. It’s a piece “about crossing boundaries and connecting influences,” Baum writes, encapsulating the theme of Bridges as a whole.
In addition to her Guggenheim Fellowship (an honor she shared the same year with Steve Coleman and Elliott Sharp), Baum was awarded the 2017 New Music USA Project Grant and selected as a 2014-15 Norman Stevens Fellow during her MacDowell Colony residency. Baum’s exemplary career has been built on superlative performances in the studio and on stages around the world, alongside a long list of renowned jazz artists including Randy Brecker, Mick Goodrick, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch, Uri Caine, Ralph Alessi, David Binney, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and many others.
1. From The Well
2. Song Without Words (for S. James Baum)
3. There Are No Words 05:59
4. Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite Part 1 - The Earthquake
5. Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite Part 2 - Renewal
6. Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite Part 3 - Contemplation
7. Joyful Lament
9. UCross Me
Amir ElSaffar - trumpet, vocals
Sam Sadigursky - alto sax, bass clarinet
Chris Komer - French horn
Brad Shepik -guitar
John Escreet - piano
Zack Lober - bass, singing bowl
Jeff Hirschfeld - drums
Jamey Haddad - percussion (Bridges)
Navin Chettri - percussion, vocals (Bridges)