ENRICO MERLIN / author of "1000 Discs for A Century", "Miles Davis 1959: A Day by Day Chronology" and "Bitches Brew: Genesis of Miles Davis' Masterpiece"
In this new episode of our column, dedicated to recorded music that documents the current state of Jazz (and of what is around us), but also that somehow tries to outline new possible routes, we deal with a double CD entitled " New Works ".
Baker's Brew is a Los Angeles-based quartet that was born around the somewhat legendary figure of Maury Baker. And here certainly some of our more attentive readers will have jumped in their chair. Yes, it is THAT Maury Baker, the one of the amazing drummers on Tim Buckley's “Starsailor”. But Baker is also one of two drummers on "I Got Dem Ol 'Kozmic Blues Again Mama!" by Janis Joplin and was with her at the Woodstock Festival. Later he appeared with Frank Zappa in the album "Little Dots", published posthumously in 2016. A career alongside the giants, we could say, from Jimi Hendrix to Van Morrison, from Carlos Santana to Ron Carter, from Booker T. Jones to Scott La Faro will do it.
Alongside him a musician originally from St. Louis, saxophonist (but in fact multi-instrumentalist) Jim Goetsch. I have known Jim for many years due to our shared passion for Miles Davis and our mutual friendship with producer Bob Belden. I have always been struck by his total open-mindedness in the musical field, which makes him go from analyzing a Schoenberg score to enthusiasm for a prog-funk band, without any kind of hesitation. The role of him, in this recording project, is particularly relevant for the reasons that we are going to tell below.
The quartet is completed by guitarist Daniel Coffeng and bassist Carl Royce, who also recorded the work.
That said, what makes “New Works” a potential album of the future?
First of all, it should be noted that the double album is divided into two well-defined chapters: the first refers more to the spontaneity of the creative improvisation ensembles, or total, if you prefer. But already from this first record it is clear that the Baker's Brew is not afraid of anything. Not even the fear of not being assimilated in all respects to the dominant styles in the field of radical improvisation. In fact, there is no a priori renunciation of melodic elements attributable to modes or tonalities, indeed. The four instrumentalists, then, react in the territory of interplay with great attention to the creation of sound bands that are always extremely coherent, without useless, annoying and archaic virtuosity. Here the leader's experience and sensitivity play a fundamental role in the cohesion of the entire system.
Right from the start it is felt that the reference to that first electric world of Miles Davis, suggested by the title, is proposed here as a sort of memory filtered by the experiences of a life, in the same way in which a poem could describe a news story. There is never anything explicitly stated. The color appears and disappears, the texture passes from dense to filigree and at that moment, perhaps, the coffee scent of “Filles de Kilimanjaro” appears. See, for example, in “Return”, where the vamp of “Shhh / Peaceful” from “In a Silent Way” also appears at times, albeit in a different key. Sometimes Goetsch uses harmonizer, EQ and delay to filter his saxophone, but also in this case everything has a deep and evocative expressive-timbral-dynamic sense.
An enthusiastic progression that leads us to the second CD and this is where, in my opinion, the game is won.
Jim Goetsch's work is now fundamental, it is, so to speak, the DNA of the musical construct.
Inspired by the historic multiphony works of Stockhausen and Luigi Nono, the composer constructs a series of electronic sequences that are broadcast live in quadraphony. In the first piece we are dealing with parts of virtual arches that quickly create a texture of glissandi lenses, which like a bullet catapult us into a parallel dimension in which Giacinto Scelsi meets the Ligeti of “Lux Aeterna”. In place of the monolith of “2001: Space Odyssey” however, Goetsch's saxophone enters, which mixes tonally with the recorded parts to lead us on our interstellar journey. The strings move from pizzicato to a multi-displaced pointillism in the stereophonic space (I can only imagine what the effect could be in a quadraphonic concert hall) and all the instruments begin to interact by improvising. And this is the key that strongly struck me: the work of interaction between pre-composed and pre-recorded materials and total improvisation, each time reformulating the narration of the story, enriching the script in an unpredictable way. But compared to many similar experiences in the past, it does so in a very autonomous and personal way. After all, shouldn't jazz be just that? A great journey into the future. I recommend that you find this album through the band’s site or the label’s site.
Usually, when you read phrases like “spontaneous compositions” on the liner notes of an album, your first association is usually, “cacophonic ramblings”. Well, in the hands of vets like drummer Maury Baker, guitarist Daniel Coffeng, Jim Goetsch on sax and electronics and bassist/electronics man Carl Royce, you get two separated discs of rich impressionistic art, easy to follow and even easier to appreciate.
The gents divide the 2 discs into “new jazz works” and “new electronic works” with the songs ranging from just under four minutes to a dash over fourteen. The New Jazz Works gives hints of the first couple Weather Report albums, Miles Davis in his In A Silent Way/Bitches Brew period and with a dash sprinkled of Pat Metheny. Baker, who’s made a name for himself with Frank Zappa, Ron Carte and Jimi Hendrix , is richly adept at keeping the pulses moving with floating cymbals, making currents like a spring stream under Goetsch’s soprano sax and the moody electronics on “Flatland” and the ethereal “Cycle”, which also features some clean and dark guitar brush strokes by Coffeng. Dark nimbus clouds with dashy of bluesy interplay between Royce and Coffeng on “Asymmetric”,as well as the splashy synthy soundscapes on “Medium Cool” give a modernizing of a “ Shhh/Peaceful” feeling.
Cool darkness and richly textured shadows throughout.
The New Electronic Works is a bit more playful, with echoes of birds propelled by Coffeng in”Aviary”, some nifty weaving in and out of electronic gurgles by Coffeng on “Omen” and clever uses of voice and electronics on the “Toledo”. Eerie film noir atmospheres akin to a Fritz Lang production are created when the gents plug in with some violin sounds melding with Goetsch’s soprano for a harrowing “Conversation’” with rich and clean modern bopping musings delivered by Coffeng on the mix of ambience and swing on “Gesture” and “Toledo (realization 2)”. Tasty textures of tones.
Cultivated art-rock drummer Maury Baker (Ars Nova, Tim Buckley, Frank Zappa) strokes it light & spacious on jazz and electronic tunes/jamz with bandmates Jim Goetsch (sax), Daniel Coffeng (guitar) and Carl Royce (bass). Detailed recording and trippy surround-sound complement tuned-in performances and moody intelligence for a deeply involving audiophile experience, if that ain't a dirty word.
THE GROTESQUALIZER BLOG
Accomplished drum master Maury Baker’s quartet has prepared new material called “New Works.”
The composition “Return,” representing the album, is peculiar ECM jazz with big leaps to impressionism and other Western classical music. Forming a field for otherworldly fantasies, the deep double bass lies in wait for the soft, laconic piano, while the drum part spreads nearby, and the slightly muffled snare drum becomes an excellent atmospheric find. You’re like a feather in the wind of a lucid dream, and it seems that Baker's Brew's music is about to flow away towards spiritual jazz, but after the third minute, it moves to dark corners, becoming almost a surreal mystery with a touch of Scriabin or Messiaen. Baker's Brew is adept at introducing littleknown, picturesque sound spaces to the listener.