In This Life
Flutist-composer Jamie Baum’s previous albums included overt tributes to Bartók, Stravinsky, Ives and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, influences that form a nice approximation of the intricate chamber-jazz Baum put forth with her longstanding septet. On In This Life she hybridizes that signature style with music inspired by her trips to South Asia, especially the devotional Qawwali music of the late Pakistani Sufi vocal dynamo Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. She has also revamped and slightly expanded her septet for this project, which she unabashedly claims on her website to be her “best to date.” She may be right: The highlights are certainly enthralling.
Baum’s music has never lacked for ambition in its mixture of through composition, thematic improvisation and free interplay. But the most successful songs on In This Life stem from her most straightforward embrace of Qawwali. On the opener, “Nusrat,” her flute solo ushers in intoxicating tabla beats from Dan Weiss and sinuous horns led by trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. Khan’s “The Game” begins with a stimulating swirl of instruments and then stretches into a toe-tapper, with guitarist Brad Shepik darting ahead of Weiss and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. There are also songs more reminiscent of Baum’s last two septet recordings, although the switch from pianist George Colligan to the splashier John Escreet is significant. Escreet hammers, shimmers and hopscotches through a scene-stealing solo on “Monkeys of Gokarna Forest,” right after providing essential support for trumpet, flute and guitar solos on “In Another Life.” Here’s hoping that Baum continues to explore these new variations to her approach and ensemble.