By Mike Greenblatt
You couldn’t get music any more diametrically opposed than the new releases of jazzers Noah Baerman and Michael Wollny next to singer-songwriters like Dan Masterson and Seth Adams. Yet the release of these 4 CDs makes for a quartet of gemstone that will tweak the ears, hearts and minds of adventurous music listeners.
Whether you share pianist/composer Noah Baerman’s commitment and activism to a number of causes or not, you cannot deny the beauty and towering grandeur of his “Ripples” (Lemel Music).
He sees music as the pursuit of transcendence and a means to advancement, both for the individual and for society itself. This dead-serious artist/educator/humanitarian may struggle with a connective tissue disease known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (for which he wrote and performs the arresting “The Healer” with an octet), but his illness is not what he’s about. He’s headed the non-profit Resonant Motion organization whose charter delineates music as a “healing force to expand awareness and promote action.”
Taken as a purely aural experience, the two distinct ensembles contained within—Jazz Samaritan Alliance and Baerman’s Chamber Octet—give this project an admittedly highbrow entertaining factor. One of his causes—foster care and adoption—results in “Motherless,” the melody of which is lifted from the old gospel “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” The track wrings every inch of soul out of its well-worn melody. Baerman, who switches from piano to electric piano to slide guitar, depending upon the track, is on organ here and is propelled into a mightily swinging cadenza . Alto saxman Kris Allen rambles on unaccompanied until giving way to tenor saxman Jimmy Greene. It’s a stirring and galvanizing moment of pure jazz pleasure. “Ripple: Brotherhood” gets into some wild free-for-all Weather Report territory while “Ripple: Persistence” is a brilliant Baerman/Allen duet.
There’s something for everybody here: “Peeling The Onion” features the grooooooove bass of Linda Oh and the Bobby Hutcherson-styled vibraphone of Chris Dingman. “Lester,” an ode to the tragic story of a child who entered the foster care system after having experienced the horror of abuse, is an uplifting nine minutes featuring the legendary piano player Kenny Barron. Lester may not have been able to conquer his demons (he killed himself in 2011), but he left a searing memory for Baerman who refused to infuse the piece with gloom.
“Weltentraum” (ACT Music) by the Michael Wollny Trio is an esoteric trip from this progressive jazz pianist that straddles material as diverse as “God is a DJ” by Pink and “Be Free, A Way” by the Flaming Lips to “Lasse!” by medieval poet Guiliaume de Machaut [1300-1377], “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” by classical composer Edgard Varese [1883-1965] and even two pieces from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche [1844-1900]. Eleven such contemporary interpretations sit astride two originals to create a smorgasbord of head trips and mind games that provide a delightful respite from the music you’re probably used to digesting. Wollny goes harpsichord on the ending Pink track which also adds Theo Blackman on vocals and electronics. With sturdy bass/drum support, this thing should blow your mind.
Singer/songwriters Dan Masterson (left) and Seth Adam (below) come from opposite ends of the pop spectrum but both of their self-released CDs are intriguingly special, totally deserving of ears, and highly recommended. Dan’s “Learn To Live” is a gorgeous five-song EP that expands upon his “The Father Time” debut by cultivating an emotional core.
Like Rufus Wainwright crossed with Jeff Buckley, Dan is an emotional boy but totally unique unto himself. He has a soothing croon, gets passionate at the drop of a lick, and has a caressing turn-of-phrase vocally that ups itself into a pleasing falsetto. His words and music stay with you, and I, for one, look forward to his major-label full-length…which is obviously in his future. Seth Adam, on the other hand, rocks. Pure and simple. Visceral and primal. Deliciously so, in fact. He’s from Connecticut and bands like, say, Son Volt and Counting Crows would be amongst those whom he could be compared to. His “Steel Tempered Pride” is just that. Brutally honest (“These Pills”), cynically astute (“People Are Only Going To Break Your Heart”) and grateful (“Thank You, Chicago”), Seth Adam puts his feelings into rockin’ odes that you can boogie all night to without having to even listen to his well-defined words if you don’t want to.