Noah Baerman – Ripples (2014)

Noah Baerman plays piano, organ, slide guitar and sings a little. He leads a trio, a chamber octet, a duet, a quartet of singers, a two-sax/vibes quintet, and an assortment of combinations of these ensembles. He composes for every shade of jazz from greasy soul-jazz to Third Stream. And he does this all within one album.

That album, Ripples, his ninth, is busting out all over with ambition.

Coming out March 11, 2014 on Lemel Music via Baerman’s Resonant Motion, Inc. non-profit organization, Ripples is really a manifestation of the mission set out by RMI, to advance the belief “that music has a profound capacity to inspire people towards personal growth, strength and transformation and to and educate people about issues important to their world.”

“Time Is Now” can even be seen as a Resonant Motion anthem of sorts, but what a beautifully constructed anthem it is. It’s a song with three layers: an electric piano trio, a chamber ensemble and quartet of vocalists who take turns singing encouragement to take control of one’s destiny. These layers come together to convey soul, suave and swing equally within a finger-snapping package.

The next song, “Motherless,” introduces Baerman’s “Jazz Samaritan Alliance,” with Baerman now on organ, joined by the vibes of Chris Dingman, the drums of Jonathan Blake and a couple of saxes by the well-regarded Kris Allen and Jimmy Greene. This variation of the old blues standard “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” is introduced by Dingman’s colorful vibes, which ushers in Baerman’s pew-inspired ruminations and followed by a passion-filled tenor sax solo from Greene.

“Persistence” is a diversion from the stacking of ensembles, an alto sax/piano dalliance involving only Baerman and Greene, with chords ascending and descending like driving over rolling hill landscape. “Peeling The Onion” finds Baerman appearing on slide guitar, and it’s a little odd to hear that opposite the horns. It brings out the blues in the song, while the organ beings the soul. There’s room left for Dingman’s vibes and he’s in fine form, as is Linda Oh and her precise bass solo.

The centerpiece performance is called “Lester,” a piece where the Jazz Samaritan Alliance is supplemented by Oh’s bass and the magnificent piano of Kenny Barron. It takes a lot of self-assurance for a pianist to bring in this NEA Jazz Master to come play on your record, and hats off to Baerman for doing it for the sake of the music itself. Barron doesn’t disappoint, he exploits the ample time given to him to allow his improvised lines to naturally unfold. Baerman himself comes in after him on organ and holds little back in setting that organ on fire.

These are just some of the many statements – or “ripples” — made by Baerman for Ripples. He tosses a lot into his sonic stew but measured, quality ingredients makes this far from being disparate musical flavors haphazardly thrown together. That’s one way to make music that inspires positivity.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.