Even before the release of the Jamie Baum Septet's new album, Moving Forward, Standing Still (OmniTone), the disc had already received one important accolade: it garnered a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Charitable Foundation grant for the flutist that will enable her to write more music for the septet and put on a couple performances. And though Baum's compositions certainly have the kind of complex, surprising structures that please the academy, they were born of a desire to appeal to the average jazz junkie.
"I play, and have played for a long time, straightahead jazz. I love playing standards and came up doing that," Baum says. "But you go to a club and hear people play a tune-the tune would be 12 bars and then everybody would take a solo for like 20 minutes. Most jazz players, they can solo for 20 minutes and they're having fun, but I'm not so sure that that's always the case for the listener." In addition, she says, "a lot of times you hear people play over a tune, and it almost doesn't matter what tune it is, what melody."
Baum's combination of composition and direction ("Through what I've written or by explaining it, hopefully they take the ball and run with it") yields organic structures on tracks like "In the Journey," where trumpeter Ralph Alessi tears into fragments from Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring before pianist George Colligan's stony chords halt the race, then gradually bring everything back together. On straighter stuff like "Rivington Street Blues," the solos are both characterful and short, with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jeff Hirshfield keeping things moving.
Themes from the Rite play a major role on Moving Forward, Standing Still, which also takes inspiration from Bela Bartok, Charles Ives and the music of India. When studying for a masters' in composition at Manhattan School of Music, Baum found that the Rite has "a lot of melodies and different ostinatos that really lend themselves to jazz improvisation. And when you look at Stravinsky's music, it's very linear-the harmony comes about because of things lining up." Just like on "All Roads Lead to You," where at times the winds carry the main melody while the rhythm section and trumpet each go their separate ways, all somehow remaining part of a whole.
In addition to Alessi, the group features Tom Varner on French horn and Doug Yates on alto sax and bass clarinet, a combination that Baum says gives the group "more transparency, and the flute can speak a little bit more in that context." Throughout, the combination produces a cool yet lustrous sound, perfect for the modern composers Baum tackles. Thanks to Chamber Music America, we already know we'll get to hear more of it.