Duck Baker: Everything That Rises Must Converge (2009)
Richard "Duck" Baker's four decade career as a guitarist has encompassed folk, ragtime, blues, jazz, and avant-garde improvisation. Everything That Rises Must Converge is firmly located within the latter genreindeed, it's sub-titled "Free Jazz Guitar Solos"but much of the music on this enjoyable record could only have been made by an artist with a firm grasp of the more "traditional" approaches to playing the guitar.
The album is the result of two recording sessionseight pieces from a 1996 session and four from 2001. Baker plays with a confident fingerpicking style on acoustic guitar, keeping the instrument's sound pure and unaltered by electronic effects. His picking is precise, rhythmic, and strongalmost too strong on some faster passages, when his right hand technique can create occasional harsh "slapping" effects. But for the most part his playing benefits from excellent sound quality, especially on the 1996 recording session, and is a pleasure to hear.
The album opens and closes with alternative takes of "Juxta Pose," a slow and rather sombre tune with faint echoes of Celtic ballads. The remaining tunes display variety of pace, intensity, and complexity: sometimes influences are clearly displayed, while at other times they stay determinedly below the surface. "Pole-Ska" begins with some delicate playing from Baker before moving into funkier territory. "SS-EC-DB Blues"a tribute perhaps to fellow free-jazz guitarists Sonny Sharrock and Eugene Chadbourneis far freer and less overtly bluesy than its title suggests. "Allah, Perhaps" hints at North African influences within its lovely runs and patterns.
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" is not only the title track but also the album's crowning glory. The tune first appeared on Baker's 1979 album The Art Of Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar (Kicking Mule Records). Here Baker takes the original and expands it into a 9 minute exploration, moving through the simple but beautiful theme into much freer and harder-edged playing before returning to the theme once more in the closing third of the track.
The single non-original tune is Ornette Coleman's "Peace" from The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Atlantic, 1959). Baker's guitar on this track is particularly bright and crisp, a slight echo adding a somewhat ethereal quality to the sound. His version is slower than Coleman's, more contemplative and measured, but retains the beauty of the melody.
Baker's recorded output demonstrates how this talented player can perform across a range of styles and genres. On the evidence of Everything That Rises Must Converge Baker's improvisational ability is capable of creating accessible and beautiful free jazz piecesanother collection is eagerly anticipated.
Track Listing: Juxta Pose; Peace; Everything That Rises Must Converge; Unexpected Arrival in a High Clearing; SS-EC-DB Blues; Adolescent Ballad; Pole-Ska; The Idea of San Francisco; Fish Flying in Arabica; Instant Opus; Allah, Perhaps; Juxta Pose-2-.
Personnel: Richard "Duck" Baker: guitar.