Friday, 7 September 2007

Jim Baker...

I love people like Jim Baker, even though I rarely listen to this recording. He's an eccentric, a one-off, a man with ideas that sometimes are excruciating in their execution but at other times breathtaking.

A man from the same Chicago scene as Hal Russell, there's more than a little of the same kookiness about Baker. Vandermark may have galvanised the 'new' Chicago jazz scene, but people like Baker remind us that there's a lot more going on in the City than Ken's projects...




JIM BAKER
More Questions Than Answers
DELMARK (DE-560)

Watching The Interstate; Tolled Deadpan; Tocsin Du Jour; Happenedstance; Post-Industrial Societies And Their Pre-Cursors; Infinity Trip Blues; Is It Still Mime If They’re Deaf?; Mourning Doves; Grey Comedy; Hobbesian’s Choice; More Questions Than Answers; Airstrip Vespers; Through The Woods, Over The River.

Jim Baker (ky)
Recorded March 2003 to August 2004.

I first encountered the somewhat eccentric improvising style of Chicagoan Jim Baker in the early Ken Vandermark ensemble, Caffeine. In truth, the best thing about their rather lugubrious music was the drumming of Steve Hunt, though Baker opened my ears with tightly focussed and endlessly renewable streams of ideas. A later Vandermark project, Standards For Improvisers, revealed Baker’s fondness for analogue synthesisers, whilst a subsequent outing with Fred Anderson confirmed his versatility by presenting a more straight-ahead player.

For this project, his leadership debut, Baker could have picked any combination of bankable talent from the Chicago scene. Instead he chose to present a set of thirteen solo, real-time improvisations. Baker’s excellent sleevenotes describe in detail the paradoxical process of the improviser trying to escape memory and be ‘in the moment’, whilst still presenting an ordered programme of music for the listener. He manfully accepts that memory informs and shapes his work and freely admits that some of the pieces were recorded at later sessions specifically to fit the disc’s programmatic requirements. A free improviser cheating? I don’t really think so, and he’d be hard pressed to replicate any of these pieces with any kind of precision if asked to do so.

As to the disc’s title, it isn’t an altogether bad description of the music. I suspect however that Baker would be unhappy if he ever found more answers than questions. His identity as an essentially lyrical abstractionist is to be found at every turn. ‘Tolled Deadpan’ is a beautifully melancholic excursion with evocative crepuscular hues. It is immediately followed by an unexpected flurry of white noise from Baker’s ARP synthesiser. Occasionally percussive, though never for long, Baker repeatedly returns to his melodic motifs as if by instinct.

The gigantic ‘Post Industrial Societies’ runs the gamut of emotions to reach a coruscating climax, whilst ‘Mourning Doves’ proves that the brilliance of ‘Deadpan’ was no fluke. At times the music has the expansive range of Keith Jarrett’s mid ‘70s solo work, but seen through a grainy patina that repels sentimentality.

Given the readiness with which his solos coalesce into harmonious forms, Baker’s quip that next time round he’ll probably ‘just stick to standards’ is perhaps not so ridiculous. In using his entire experience as a performing musician, experience that includes interpretation of standards, such a disc would inevitably present the same unpredictable and exciting talent, simply a little more transparently. Not always a joyful noise, More Questions Than Answers is nevertheless well worth investigating.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, May 2005)

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