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Noah Baerman Presents World Premiere of Extended Suite at Wesleyan University

Apr 22, 2015

As the ultimate non-quitter, Sisyphus was a role model of sorts for the remarkably resilient Noah Baerman.

If you knew absolutely nothing about Noah Baerman except for the music you heard on his nine triumphant recordings, you’d never suspect for a minute that the brilliant pianist/composer from Middletown has struggled for years with the debilitating pain caused by a rare and incurable connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).

Despite the perpetually uphill struggle caused by EDS, with Sisyphean-like determination Baerman has never quit pushing to create his life-affirming music. He’s waged a full-scale, heavy-lifting career as an acclaimed bandleader, recording artist, educator, and idealist creating socially conscious “message music” that supports an array of humanitarian and philosophical causes to help bring about positive change in the world.

Considering Baerman’s courage to keep striving ever upward, even when his onerous burden seemed determined to roll right back down to the bottom of the hill, it’s little surprise that he has come up with a reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus that serves as the source of inspiration for his extended work, The Rock and the Redemption.

Greek mythology king, Sisyphus.
Credit Matthäus Lode / Creative Commons

In yet another landmark in his ascending career, Baerman and his Resonance Ensemble present the world premiere of his new suite at 8:00 pm on Saturday, April 25, at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Concert Hall on the Middletown campus at 50 Wyllys Avenue. The occasion marks the celebratory conclusion of the 14th annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend.

For outwitting the gods, Sisyphus was condemned to endlessly push a giant boulder up a steep hill. Just before he reached the top, it tumbled back to the bottom of the hill and the endless cycle began all over again.

As the ultimate non-quitter, Sisyphus was a role model of sorts for the remarkably resilient Baerman. If he had been made of lesser stuff -- he was first diagnosed with the congenital disorder at age nine -- he could have stopped pushing as he strove toward his goals as an artist and as an individual. At 28, for example, the pain in his hands and fingers became so burdensome that he almost had to quit playing piano. He continued pressing forward, a struggle that has somehow made him stronger.

Despite EDS, Baerman today is playing and writing with even more authority, mixing the soulful with the cerebral. Baerman has transformed a seeming calamity into a creative catalyst.

On his blog -- an ongoing thoughtful, well-written collection of his reflections on many topics -- Baerman noted that the term “Sisyphean” is used to describe “repetitive, hopeless situations and endlessly futile tasks,” but questioned whether Sisyphus really is a pitifully tragic figure as has been historically assumed.

Noah Baerman.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
"Every time John Coltrane played his saxophone, he strove for something and fell short. So if these giants failed, then why should we bother, right?"
Noah Baerman

Baerman has a much different take on this traditional reading. It’s a personal view, he wrote, that is foundational to the core philosophy by which he lives. “Maybe through all the days of pushing the boulder,” he wrote, “Sisyphus found a sense of inner peace and calm. Maybe his body became strong from the daily workout. Maybe he evolved past the narrow belief that the only reward is to get the boulder all the way to the top of the mountain and have it stay there. …The top of the mountain is a mirage -- the best you might ever hope for in that regard is to get close enough to the top to see the next, higher peak over the horizon. And yet, there’s such value in pushing -- indeed, pushing, with all our might."

Since the wrathful gods aren’t forcing us to push, as was the case with Sisyphus, Baerman wrote that we could, of our own free will, choose to take the easy way out. “We can just lean on the rock and lament our circumstances,” he wrote. “Or we can just walk away and avoid the risk of failure.”

Noah Baerman.
Credit Noah Baerman.

Baerman cited heroic historical figures who neither leaned nor lamented. “After all,” he wrote, “Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t reach the mountaintop in his lifetime, Susan B. Anthony didn’t live to see all women able to vote. Every time John Coltrane played his saxophone, he strove for something and fell short. So if these giants failed, then why should we bother, right?”

It’s possible that Sisyphus is a role model, Baerman wrote, for perseverance and ambition, steering us away from the notion of failure. “The very act of pushing has its own value -- really, it’s central to the human condition …We keep striving and every action becomes a celebration of humanity itself.”

For the premiere performance of The Rock and the Redemption, the Noah Baerman Resonance Ensemble includes vibraphonist Chris Dingman, alto saxophonist/flutist Kris Allen, cellist/vocalist Melanie Hsu, bassist Henry Lugo, drummer Bill Carbone, vocalists Latanya Farrell, Claire Randall and Garth Taylor. Baerman will augment his piano work with turns on synthesizer and slide guitar. The pianist/composer is the artistic director of Resonant Motion, a non-profit that deals with the intersection of creative music and the commitment to bring about positive change.

The concert opens with a brief performance of some of Baerman’s other material by the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble, which he has directed since 2007, and the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra, which he is conducting this semester as a visiting instructor.

Admission: $15.00, general public; $12.00, senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni and non-Wesleyan students; $6.00, Wesleyan students. Available at www.wesleyan.edu/boxoffice, at (860) 685-3355, at the box office, or at the door one hour prior to performance.

Baerman will discuss the philosophical origins and musical development of The Rock and the Redemption in a free talk at 4:15 pm on Wednesday, April 22, in the Daltry Room, Music Rehearsal Hall Room 003, at 60 Wyllys Avenue.

Also check out the artful introductory video to the new work posted here. An exquisitely concise, well-crafted collaboration between Baerman and his wife, the visual artist Kate Ten Eyck, this delightful piece blends imaginative, animated charcoal drawings by Ten Eyck; Baerman’s voice-over exegesis of the suite, and music by him adapted from The Rock and the Redemption. It's a mini-work of art in and of itself, a blend of explication and delectation.

Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend also features a free concert by the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble performing pieces by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and others at 7:00 pm on Friday, April 24, at Crowell Concert Hall.

Deep in the Keys with Hey Rim Jeon

Hey Rim Jeon.
Credit Courtesy of Hey Rim Jeon

Hartford Public Library’s free Baby Grand Jazz series goes deep into the keys at 3:00 pm on Sunday, April 26, as it presents the fluent, rich-toned, crisply articulating Korean-born pianist Hey Rim Jeon leading her excellent trio featuring bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel.

Born in Seoul, Jeon began on piano at age four and was gliding through challenging classical pieces in recitals by the time she was nine. A gifted, hard-practicing student, she was, by 17, seriously immersed in the extraordinary beauty and keyboard complexities posed by Bach, Chopin and Liszt, earning awards and accolades for her classical mastery.

About that time, she heard an Oscar Peterson album, a life-altering revelation that unlocked the whole brave, new world of jazz for her. Blessed with perfect pitch, she always loved improvising at the keyboard, making up tunes even as a child. But it wasn’t until that OP epiphany that she realized there was an alternative art form out there where she could marry her passion for improvisation with the great wealth of knowledge about technique and expression that she had already acquired with her classical training.

A graduate of Berklee College of Music, she’s made fine recordings, played in such famous venues as Lincoln Center, triumphed attop jazz clubs and festivals in Korea, Japan and Turkey while becoming a highly regarded emerging artist.

Drawing from jazz, classical and traditional folk elements, her music abounds with variety and originality. Her re-imaginations of classic ballads crackle with her own distinctive imprint through touch, tone and invention.

Signs of her diverse musical interests shine throughout her luminous album, Introducing Hey Rim Jeon, (N-Coded Music), which features six originals and her equally original interpretations of four songs by Chick Corea, Claude Debussy and Sigmund Romberg, as well as a traditional folk song from her native country.

The beautiful folk number rings with exquisite simplicity that morphs into a soulful blues, resonating with full-bodied, blue note drenched passages. Illuminated with tremolos and block chords, the deep blues feeling, in turn, seamlessly evolves back into the pristine world of folk. It’s all synthesized in a soulful mini-suite that takes you round trip from Seoul to the Big Apple and back for a smooth landing at Seoul. Information: www.hplct.org and (860) 695-6300.

Fiedler’s Three at Firehouse 12

Trombonist/composer Joe Fiedler and his long-running trio celebrate the release of their CD, I’m In (Multiphonics Music), with performances at 8:30 and 10:00 pm on Friday, April 24, at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street, New Haven. The master of multiphonics (his ability to produce multiple notes simultaneously on trombone) is joined by bassist Rob Jost and drummer Michael Sarin.

Joe Fiedleras.
Credit Joe Fiedleras.

Besides his heralded recordings as a leader, Fiedler is also a consummate sideman who fits in any configuration from salsa to avant-garde. His discography exceeds more than 100 recordings, many made with a dizzying variety of performers ranging from Jennifer Lopez to Anthony Braxton.

Along with free jazz, the new CD features Fiedler’s imaginative takes on Latin tunes and funk with his signature free improvisations and use of extended techniques on trombone. The disc’s grand finale is a blues with a bridge set up by a dramatic drum intro by the serendipitous Sarin, a resourceful, surprise-filled drummer. Fiedler also returns on this session to his use of the plunger mute, exploring its texture-generating colors. Tickets: $20.00, first set; $15.00, second set. Information: www.firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468

Bassist Nat Reeves.
Credit Creative Commons

Jammin’ at J’s Crab Shack  

Noted bassist Nat Reeves leads his trio at 8:00 pm on Saturday, April 25, in an ongoing series of fund-raising events for the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz at J’s Crab Shack, 2074 Park Street, Hartford. 

Reeves is joined by pianist Mark Templeton and drummer Eric Hallenback. Tickets: $10.00 in advance at hartfordjazz.com; at the door, $15.00 single and $25.00 per couple. Hosted by the GHFJ and J’s Crab Shack, the fundraisers continue with drummer Liviu Pop and Friends on Sunday, May 3, followed by bassist Ace Livingston on Saturday, May 16.

Bakir Exhibits Works at Art Gallery

Guitarist/composer Sinan Bakir returns to focusing on his original compositions in a tight, interactive trio format at 8:00 pm on Saturday, April 25, at Passages Gallery, 509 Farmington Avenue, Hartford. Helping Bakir, a sonic painter with a strong sense of color, form and texture, to frame his original artistry at the gallery are his trio mates, bassist Matt Dwonszyk and drummer Cemre Dogan.

Sinan Bakir.
Credit MySpace.com

Actually, the gallery’s music series is presenting a jazz double-header on Saturday, April 25. Vocalist Linda Ransom, a Hartford favorite who has performed throughout the Northeast, is the opener for the gallery’s day/night jazz festivities, presenting a matinee performance at 2:00 pm. Information: passagesgallerymusic.com and (860) 523-3232.

Icy Sunset Jazz Soiree

Icy Sunset Jazz and Art Exhibition, a soiree featuring eclectic musical vibes and rhythms and an art show will be held at 5:30 pm on Saturday, April 25, at The Hilton Hotel, 315 Trumbull Street, Hartford.

A varied mix of genres embracing jazz, blues, R&B, reggae, Latin and African beats, the music includes the Latin jazz band uj with Nelson Bello and Hommy Ramos; R&B fusion with The MPM Band; the teenage jazz and blues band The Modern Riffs; singer E. Barclay Harris and African kora player Yacouba Diabate. The art exhibition features works by Pierre Sylvain and Chris Cumberbatch. Tickets: $35.00/$45.00 and $50.00 at the door. Information: www.icysunsetjazz.com and (646) 462-1461.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.