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Bauder is intensely curious, often to the detriment of his career momentum—it's harder to get noticed if you're always changing gears or hopping from scene to scene. But that diversity—from the revisionist doo-wop of White Blue Yellow and Clouds to the minimalist soundscapes of Memorize the Sky to the chamber music of Paper Gardens—is one of the most exciting things about his work. In an interview I did with Bauder last year for Down Beat he told me, "I want a balance, and I wouldn't be doing all of these different things for this long if I wanted one of them to take over. I feel like I can't take a narrow path like that."
Bauder considers jazz his musical core, though, and relates everything else he does to it. Late last year he finally released his first indisputably "jazz" record, the self-titled debut of his quintet Day in Pictures (Clean Feed). On its seven great original tunes, his gorgeous tenor saxophone and his agile, full-bodied clarinet blossom in their full glory, swinging and stomping. This won't be a surprise if you're familiar with Bauder, because he plays knockout solos all the time—it's just that he usually does it in someone else's band, from Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra to Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day to Taylor Ho Bynum's old sextet.
"I'm a product of what the jazz tradition has become," Bauder said in our Down Beat interview. "I do see myself as a jazz musician because I've studied it a lot and I started out playing in jam sessions as a teenager. When I go to make a record I think openly because of how much is out there, but I think it's all influenced by jazz." There's no audible connection between Day in Pictures and, say, Memorize the Sky, aside from a commitment to improvisation, but for Bauder they're related at a foundational conceptual level.
Below you can listen to a track from the new album, "Reborn Not Gone," and pick out the jazz-nerd references—its rhythms obviously rhyme with the Miles Davis/Gil Evans version of "Gone" from Porgy and Bess, and the tune's melody nicks ideas from Charles Mingus's "Reincarnation of a Lovebird." The whole record is Bauder's love letter to 50s and 60s jazz, but his band—trumpeter Nate Wooley, pianist Angelica Sanchez, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara—is so strong and idiosyncratic that the music never sounds like a throwback. Bauder also slyly acknowledges his Chicago ties in several song titles: "Parks After Darks" is a wink to guitarist Jeff Parker, "Bill and Maza" is a tribute to Bill Dixon, whom he met and worked with under the leadership of Rob Mazurek (the "Maza" of the title), and "Two Lucks" is a pun on the name of bassist Matt Lux.
Unfortunately, the record arrived in my mailbox in December, as I nailed down my year-end lists, and I didn't have a chance to consider it. But Day in Pictures is certainly one 2010's best jazz recordings. Here's a recent interview and in-studio performance Bauder did for Soundcheck, a program on New York's WNYC. He leads a trio with Fujiwara and bassist Eivind Opsvik. Below you can watch some great-sounding video footage of the session—as one astute observer has pointed out, Bauder is rocking a mid-70s Bill Evans look.
"Reborn Not Gone":