Jazz at the Libraries

Last weekend was a jazz festival for me, at two different libraries. Both were fine shows.

Jamie Baum and her Septet+ played the Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room (Dave was a Wiltonian) on February 27. Flautist Jamie lives in New York now, but she’s a Fairfield, Connecticut native, and expressed pleasure being back in the county of her birth.

jamie baum

Jamie Baum’s Septet+ on stage in Wilton. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Actually, describing Baum as a flautist doesn’t do her justice, though she’s great on the instrument. What I find fascinating with her is the palette she uses as a writer and arranger. The music she played in Wilton is soon to be recorded for an album called “Bridges”—maybe some kind of answer to Donald Trump’s wall.

Baum is a cultural ambassador, and her new music is informed by a fascination with Asian music, and recent visits to Nepal—including the Kathmandu Jazz Festival. She’s also inspired by the singing of Pakistan’s late, qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Baum, a 2014 Guggenheim recipient, was commissioned by New York’s Rubin Museum of Himalayan Arts to write “Honoring Nepal: The Shiva Suite,” which she played in Wilton. Like all the music she played, it was complex, changeable, challenging—and lots of fun, too. You never knew where she was going next.

I loved a piece called “Ucross Me,” inspired by a visit to the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. It started with long through-composed introduction that almost had Phillip Glass overtones, briefly became a conventional jazz taut piece, moved into exchanges between trumpet player Amir Elsaffar and guitarist Brad Shepik (a standout player that night) and closed with a long and hugely impressive guitar solo that accessed late period Miles and rock music, too.

Here’s the band playing “Lament”:

So much writing for larger bands doesn’t take full advantage of multiple voices, but Baum’s music is endlessly inventive, and it made this seven-piece sing. Outstanding soloists were Shepik on guitar, Sam Sadigursky on alto and bass clarinet, and Elsaffar on trumpet, but all rose to the challenge of this tricky music.

Just one day later, I was at the lovely old (turn of the century) Pequot Library in Fairfield, catching the WPKN Jazz All-Stars. WPKN is a radio station I’ve been proud to call home for 43 years, and this was a benefit organized by the drummer and jazz DJ Rick Petrone.

The first set was nice and polite. Joining Petrone were pianist David Childs, saxophonist Chris Stelluti, and veteran drummer Joe Corsello, who was in the house band at Michael’s Pub and has recorded with Sonny Rollins, Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Steve Marcus, Ralph Lalama, Mike Moore, Sal Salvadore, Gene Bertoncini and Mike Mainari. He tours with Rollins.

WPKN All-Stars

Giacomo Gates on stage at the Pequot with jazz rabbi Greg Wall admiring at left. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Stelluti has a nice tone on tenor that reminded me of Zoot Sims or Stan Getz, but he didn’t play all that forcefully or improvise all that much at the Pequot. The energy level picked up a lot in the second set when he was joined on the bandstand by Greg Wall, a Westport, Connecticut rabbi when he’s not blowing a really exciting soprano sax. The Jazz Rabbi can be regularly heard turning up the heat at a club called 323 Westport, when he’s not presiding at Bar Mitzvahs.

And then Giacomo Gates came out. I love this guy, a standout male jazz vocalist who really commands the stage. Watching him direct the band with body language was a treat. I don’t think they’d played together much, if at all, but everyone spoke jazz so it didn’t matter.

Betty Carter did a lot with Gigi Gryce/John Hendricks’ “Social Call,” but Gates swung it madly. There were also tunes from Thelonious Monk and Babs Gonzalez. Nobody wanted the show to stop, but eventually it did. And a full house enjoyed a nice afternoon of jazz and benefited their favorite radio station in the process. Let’s hope the Jazz All-Stars turn it into a regular happening.

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