Editor’s Choice, Best of 2005 - New Discoveries
- John Kelman, All About Jazz.com
Top Ten Best Albums Of 2005
- Nick Lea, Jazz Views.uk
Publisher's Top Picks for 2005 - Honorable Mention
- Michael Ricci, publisher, All About Jazz.com
“A prediction for the coming year (or two) - you will soon know the name of local pianist, Jeff Baumeister”
- Ken Weiss, CadenceMagazine - February 2006”
Reviews of ‘Useful Music' (wahbo records 2005-1)
"Congratulations to you and your saxophonist! Your music is world-class." - Mark C. Gridley (author of Jazz Styles: History And Analysis, Prentice Hall)
“Useful Music establishes a new player and writer--and a new group--who, if there’s any justice, will attract the attention of those who know the reach of modern jazz extends well beyond the narrow confines of more traditional convention.” – All About Jazz.com
By John Kelman, All About Jazz.com
With the number of jazz albums released every month, it’s becoming more and more challenging to keep up. Add the proliferation of small independent and artist-run labels and the task becomes nearly insurmountable. And that’s a shame, because it means that talented artists are getting lost in the sheer mass of information out there.
Hopefully that’s not a fate in store for Philadelphia-based pianist Jeff Baumeister, whose debut release signifies a new voice with a less-than-common set of roots. Baumeister’s writing is conceptually complex--owing more to the advanced compositional approaches of classical composers including Vincent Persichetti and Paul Hindemith than it does conventional jazz tradition. But don’t let thoughts of challenging musical concepts deter you. Baumeister and his quartet with saxophonist Greg Riley, bassist Peter Paulsen, and drummer Dan Capecchi make these acroamatic ideas engaging and wholly accessible. Completely captivating and with a certain aesthetic connection to classic ECM piano recordings, Useful Music has all the potential to be a classic in its own right.
It’s easy to attribute Baumeister’s abstract impressionism to the usual suspects, like Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. But the truth is that his style is more rarefied. His approach is more closely aligned with artists like Steve Kuhn, Art Lande, and Bobo Stenson--who are fully capable of functioning within the jazz tradition when necessary, but when given free license lean more towards harmonic ambiguity that remains wholly lyrical and provocative. Nor is Baumeister’s unassailable technique and advanced ideation on display for its own sake. The term “musical” can sometimes seem trite; but Baumeister’s strength at translating the sophisticated and the cerebral into the emotionally profound makes “musical” a highly appropriate description.
And while Baumeister’s music is multilayered, finely detailed, and filled with various thematic conceits, it’s never jagged--further linkage to ECM albums by Kuhn, Lande, and another musical deep thinker, Richie Beirach. Capecchi’s playing is light and, in the manner of Jon Christensen, he favors delicate cymbal work over strong pulses on the kit--although he can present a stronger front when required. Paulsen’s approach seems informed by a Palle Danielsson-like European aesthetic, maintaining clear forward motion through the gentle changes of “The Realization of a Line,” but also a melodic counterpoint. Riley, on tenor and soprano, pays the same kind of close attention to the purity of each note as does Jan Garbarek, but with a tone that’s more about comforting warm than icy cool.
Still, while Useful Music has clear precedents, it’s not simply a retro exercise. Baumeister’s writing, while evoking its deceptively gentle veneer, is more structurally rich than its antecedents, making it a completely modern take on an established aesthetic. With a group concept that places musicality ahead of ego, Useful Music establishes a new player and writer--and a new group--who, if there’s any justice, will attract the attention of those who know the reach of modern jazz extends well beyond the narrow confines of more traditional convention.
“The organic lucidity that animates each of Baumeister’s compositions is the real treasure of Useful Music and a compelling reason to return to this album again and again.” – Jazz Improv Magazine
By Dimitry Ekshtut, Jazz Improv Magazine
Imagine a river. The water glistens with the last of the day’s light as a weary sun looks to retire for the night. Shimmering, sparkling, sensuously mysterious but strangely inviting, the river is a master improviser of the music that is nature. Floating down such a stream in the twilight hours, if one were to hear music it would sound strikingly similar to Jeff Baumeiter’s Useful Music.
A medley of moods, the album captures the ease, turbulence, and unpredictability of Baumeister’s quartet at the height of its powers. A program of six original compositions functions as a jumping-off point for a thorough exploration of feeling through sound. Baumeister incorporates free improvisation with the 20th compositional practices of Arnold Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith to create a sublime ambiguity about the music. Every once in a while, a section will come along that is either well composed or indicative of exceptional communication between the quartet – it is hard to tell. Yet this uncertainty stands as a guiding principle throughout Useful Music. A malleability of ideas, both composed and improvised, allows the instruments to push and pull against each other, seeing how far each one will stretch. Fortunately for the listener, Baumeister’s quartet is an especially flexible outfit.
“The Realization of a Line” is playful and frolicking. The soprano saxophone glides over the rhythm section, swaying hypnotically to the beat. Like a snake charmer, Riley coaxes the notes out of his horn as Baumeister, Capecchi and Paulsen make the music writhe in confluence. “Quiet and Restful But Moving,” borrows from Paul Hindemith’s Piano Sonata No. 3. The quartet imbue Hindemith’s sonata with an ethereal lightness making the music levitate ever so slightly off the ground. On “Wahbo,” the musicians engage in a light-hearted footrace with each other, initially following the lead of Riley’s tenor but progressively setting their own changes of pace for Riley to follow. Harmonically, Baumeister is unafraid to sacrifice conventional functionality for the sake of establishing and maintaining a particular mood or atmosphere.
And so it goes for the rest of Useful Music. Always confident, the quartet’s each stride asserts that the last improvised passage was not only worthwhile but also indeed necessary to the song’s overarching conception. Here are simply individuals trying to capture some kind of beauty or understanding in their hearts and minds, and once within their grasp, set it down as something tactile. Others my not discern the same identical message, but the inspiration is inherent in the work and makes itself evident to the interested party much as a mirror reflects one’s appearance.
Within this sometimes-complex musical landscape, Baumeister remembers to allow his abstractions to breathe. The organic lucidity that animates each of Baumeister’s compositions is the real treasure of Useful Music and a compelling reason to return to this album again and again.
“The abstractly painted sound-scapes are a Stenson-like blending heritage with a touch of groovy lyricism. They defy all, culminating in six masterpieces.”
- Jazz Review.Com
By Dr. Ana Isabel Ordonez, Jazz Review.Com
The Philly native, Jeff Baumeister met the horns at a very early age only to switch to piano when he was a teenager. He obviously succeeded there while also becoming an amazing composer. Baumeister startling artistry and sensitive character awe us with his authorship on Useful Music by the variety and freshness of a melodic, classic and jazzy climate he invents at his own pace.
These qualities, colliding with his gifts, had allowed Baumeister to be awarded with the Bernard Peiffer Memorial Piano Award for Excellence, Creativity and Dedication to Jazz Piano.
Baumeister, Dan Capecchi, Greg Riley and Peter Paulsen executed every piece with boldness. The abstractly painted soundscapes are a Stenson-like blending heritage with a touch of groovy lyricism. They defy all, culminating in six masterpieces.
A breaching style and an elegant improvisational ability bedazzles Dan Capecchi’s playing. Combining precision and lace-making smoothness with his brushes and sticks, Capecchi brings about an imaginative voice. It’s like heaven to discover Peter Paulsen’s double bass and Capecchi’s cymbals and drums pas de deux.
Greg Riley’s sax sounds enrapture as he flies easily through contemporary inventions. On Useful Music Riley’s ranking offers us a superb lyricism dotted with virility.
As soon as your ears will get to this album you will be impressed by Baumeister’s craft: his delightfully composed phrases with the melody on the bottom and syncopated expressions in the acute medium with robust bragging, which can be layered with smooth harmonies. Highly recommended!
"But Baumeister is also completely original, with a fresh take on free/avant garde jazz that is challenging yet eminently listenable.” - Jazz CD Reviews.com
By Tony Rogers, Jazz CD Reviews.com
Recommended for: Serious jazz listeners with the patience for complex music
Pianist Jeff Baumeister's debut CD is an example of the terrific music coming out of the Philadelphia area's thriving jazz scene. Baumeister, who's based in nearby Bucks County, has a somewhat moody, introspective sound that harkens to ECM artists like Keith Jarrett. But Baumeister is also completely original, with a fresh take on free/avant garde jazz that is challenging yet eminently listenable. "Quiet and Restful but Moving" is the name of one of the CD's six tracks, and it's also an apt description for the music here. Baumeister and his bandmates - Greg Riley on sax, Dan Capecchi on drums and Peter Paulsen on bass - engage in plenty of brainy improvisation and interplay as they weave a tapestry of sound on each of the CD's six tracks. Baumeister brings a heady mix of subtlety and power to his playing, while Capecchi makes extensive use of the cymbals in a way that's reminiscent of Paul Motian. Riley is an able multi-reedist here, playing both soprano and alto saxes, and Paulsen is a muted yet anchoring presence on bass. Make no mistake - this isn't background music or easy listening for jazz novices. But the tracks, all composed by Baumeister, are intricate, complex compositions that yield plenty of rewards for the patient listener. And it's not all laid-back, either. On "Wahbo," Baumeister and his bandmates prove they can jam with the best of them.
By Andrew Ciccone, Sound of Market Street
“Philadelphia native Jeff Baumeister and his quartet blur the lines between free and composed jazz music on this spectacular set of originals. Pianist and composer Baumeister roams a similar nebulous progressive territory to fellow ivory-ticklers Edward Simon and Ben Waltzer. The quartet weaves in and out of changes with subtlety and grace. "Useful Music" is moody, detailed, and unique. Highly recommended to anyone into slightly offbeat piano in the tradition of Andrew Hill, Mal Waldron, Lennie Tristano, etc.”
“While not recommended for short attention spans, the session is a refined study of high-end improvisation.” - The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Karl Stark, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Useful Music ***
"Pianist Jeff Baumeister's new CD could just as easily be found amid the hushed discs of the Munich-based ECM label. His quartet with saxophonist Greg Riley, bassist Peter Paulsen and drummer Dan Capecchi is full of quiet but fiery interplay. Baumeister, who teaches jazz studies and American music history at Bucks County Community College, quotes a Paul Hindemith piano sonata in one tune and proves by turns to be cerebral and engaging in others. While not recommended for short attention spans, the session is a refined study of high-end improvisation."
…”improvised music that has the lyricism of the best-composed music of the last century”
By David Demsey, saxophonist and Coordinator of Jazz Studies,
William Paterson University
"This CD from Jeff Baumeister and his Quartet has all the elements that bring a listener back again and again. There is a beautiful, clear-recorded sound, live and personal, and a great sense of forward motion and time that pervades all the tracks. The CD has a wonderfully mysterious quality about it: the mystery of the blurred line between playing free and over changes, the mystery of chamber music that becomes jazz, and then sensitive chamber music again. Something unexpected is always ready to occur, like the early section of "Wahbo" when the opening piano leads to - a drum solo - and a lyrical drum solo, yet! The compositional voices of giants like Hindemith and Persichetti are here, but so is the sensibility of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and other jazz titans. This is not merely "jazzed-up classical music" or "classical jazz," but improvised music that has the lyricism of the best-composed music of the last century, with the pulsing time of a solid jazz band. I'm proud that Jeff Baumeister is one of our William Paterson University jazz alumni and has gone on to accomplish so much."
“In many ways this is the sort of piano session ECM releases by the bucketful only with warmer, more upfront production. However if you’re as fond of smart, probing piano music as I am, this is a fine example.” - Cadence Magazine
By Jerome Wilson, Cadence Magazine
The piano music on Useful Music floats along on delicate rhythms. There’s a quiet intelligence to Jeff Baumeister’s playing that often brings Paul Bley to
mind. This music is mostly semi-abstract with chiming, droning chords that sometimes resolve, but often hang with unresolved tension. Halfway through most tracks Greg Riley comes in with a purposeful tenor or soprano solo
that brings more heat and light to the proceedings. He really brings order to the chaos of “For DB” and “Balladyna” and in “Wahbo,” the friendliest and
Jazziest piece of the set, Dan Capecchi takes a chatty but intelligent drum solo before yielding to Riley’s rolling tenor. “Quiet And Restful” is actually
part of a Hindemith piano sonata that shows off Baumeister’s expressive powers. In many ways this is the sort of piano session ECM releases by the
bucketful only with warmer, more upfront production. However if you’re as fond of smart, probing piano music as I am, this is a fine example.
By Vangelis Aragiannis, Jazz & Tzaz, Greece
When does music become useful? When it deviates from “art for art’s sake” and “it is for use, in a positive sense, i.e., music to be played, for everyday life and performer’s pleasure” according to Paul Hindemith, who introduced the useful music movement (gebrauchmusik in German) in classical music during the ‘20s.
In this way Jeff Baumeister’s debut under his label Wahbo records, underlines the affection for classical music of the Philadelphia based pianist and Downbeat magazine contributor, as well as his intention to appeal the audience. Nevertheless his music is not simple at all. His composite themes and melodies, all of them extending on slow, round ten-minute long tracks, step more on classical and modern classical music and less on jazz, driving him towards the European jazz sound. This does not mean that Baumeister does not swing, or that he steps away from the listener. On the contrary he has a warm, mundane sound and his lyricism is enhanced by the expressive tenor and especially the soprano sax of Greg Riley, who gradually elevates the emotional tension. I cannot express any opinion about the usefulness of “Useful Music”, but it surely is an album that combines the cerebral to the hot playing in colorful, modern and high aesthetics.
"Jeff Baumeister has fashioned a challenging set of original music here. Exploratory yet rooted, oblique yet lyrical, dark but playful, all rendered with synergetic group interplay. All members of the quartet let their own voices be heard, yet allow the collective zeitgeist to prevail"
- Tom Lawton, pianist and composer (Dreambox Media)
"The cover art on the record is great, too. The players are all awesome; I especially dig Dan's playing. This is my favorite sort of jazz approach - really smart and burning."
- John Anthony, audio engineer (Maja Audio Group)
"I really enjoy this cd! Great songs and great playing, Check it out!
- Uri Caine, pianist and composer (Winter and Winter)
"Jeff, the CD is great. You've really broken some new ground."
- Pete Colangelo, Philly Bassist