Midway into “Ripples (For Margie),” something happened to Noah Baerman.
Taking in – and responding to – the minutes of low, full-bellied saxophone wails and climbing, looping scales that Jimmy Greene had just played, he slowed the pace down. Notes were made sparser, but not simple: a coupling of keys came together – first falling to the board like small raindrops, and then layered thickly on top of each other – to create an image of pebbles landing one by one into a lake to make their polite, small but discernible waves.
Then, just as quickly as they had quieted, the ensemble joined in, bursting back to a common melody.
The performance was the culmination of a set – the second of the evening – by Baerman and his Jazz Samaritan Alliance at Firehouse 12 Friday evening. Playing a soulful, all-hands-on-deck kind of jazz that a listener can remember a week later, the group personified something several New Haveners may not have known existed at all: a socially-conscious approach to music making.
What is socially conscious jazz? For Baerman, who struggles from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and plays with finger splints, it means celebrating life because he and his ensemble can. Throughout the evening, solos acted as small, change-making ripples – or perhaps the stones that create them – in the body of water that is standard melody.
The impetus for the performance was Baerman’s most recent album Ripples (the trailer for which is above), produced by Resonant Motion, Inc. and inspired by his aunt Margie Pozefsky’s death two years ago. “She was a very kind and humble person, but she was also an activist and a philanthropist,” Baerman said. “There’s so much that we can do to make those ripples…and if each of us thinks about those positive ripples, we can make seismic changes. And we need those seismic changes.”
Suggestions of such seismic changes – Baerman’s statement that “ultimately, the answer to it all is love” – abounded, thanks in no small part to the indefatigable team that is the Jazz Samaritan Alliance (Chris Dingman, vibraphone; Henry Lugo, bass; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Kris Allen, alto saxophone; Noah Baerman, piano; Otis Brown, III, drums).
In vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s “Zaneta” (above) inspired by his then-girlfriend and now wife (and fresh off his debut album Waking Dreams), Kris Allen joined Dignman several seconds into the piece to create a sort of momentum perfectly fitted to the rising tide of love. His following solo played off of their initial interaction, quickening the pace to lift love sky-high as Greene swayed and nodded approvingly, a smile spreading across his face.
Indeed the ripples were evident throughout the evening, and will hopefully continue long into the summer and fall. “I don’t know if you came here to hear a rant about social change, but that’s what you got stuck with,” Baerman said to scattered laughs. He paused for a moment.
“In whatever sphere you walk, you can make ripples in your life, and the lives of those around you.”
For future events in the Jazz 2014 lineup at Firehouse 12, click here.