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Dennis Coffey: Live at Baker's

Doug Collette By

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The intimations of springtime on guitarist Dennis Coffey's Live at Baker's place it more closely in line with the balmy tone of Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin' At Morey Baker's Showplace Lounge (Resonance Records, 2016) than the insistent rhythm workout of One Night at Morey's: 1968 (Omnivore, 2018). Nevertheless, this three concert release, like its predecessors, features the former Funk Brother's sinewy playing married to comparably lean instrumental accompaniment on no-nonsense arrangements.

This single set from May of 2006 begins auspiciously. The languid Latin-esque sway of "Little Sunflower" recalls the early movements of Southern rock icon guitarist Dickey Betts' classic "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." Keyboardist Demetrius Nabor's crisp electric piano brightening the mood as bassist Damon Warmack insinuates himself into the mix over, under and through drummer Gaelynn McKinney's loose-limbed turns around his kit. Thanks in no small part to the tactile audio quality from Coffey's own shared production with label co-founder Cheryl Pawelski, plus the usual expertise of mastering engineer Michael Graves, it's a fait accompli for a listener to become fully immersed in this musicianship,

The Allman Brothers Band's renditions of their co-founding guitarist's signature song were the most overt demonstrations of the Southern rock icon's jazz influences (ranging from Miles Davis to John Coltrane), so it only makes sense that, in addition to this near eleven minutes of a Freddie Hubbard tune, there's another hour or so on Live At Baker's nine tracks, most of which are covers. Coffey and company are respectful of Davis' "All Blues," but not overly reverent. The quartet takes an ultra-smooth shuffle through Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon" and also offer an unself-conscious, immediately recognizable ode to the standards songbook in the form of "Moonlight in Vermont."

There's a warmth and intimacy permeating this no-frills presentation on CD, so that atmosphere must've also been prevalent in Baker's Keyboard Lounge the night of the performance. Coffey's Motown pedigree may render de rigeur his homage The Temptations—"Just My Imagination"—but that doesn't make it predictable as it unfolds over ten plus minutes. There's also a snappy extended take on Coffey's own Top 10 1971 hit, "Scorpio," just a minute shorter; the shortest cut of all here is five minutes of "Dink's Blues,"a cull from a Jack McDuffalbum on which played seminal jazz fretboarder Grant Green and Dennis Coffey surely does proud the soul-jazz heritage of this influential musician.

That effect is really no more impressive than when the rest of the bandmembers take their own equally understated turns. But hearing to the staunch Detroit resident's guitar lines unfold, without hesitation or loss for ideas, becomes borderline astonishing by the time Live at Baker's concludes. And that reaction takes even deeper root after reading the interview within the booklet inside the package: as Dennis Coffey describes his idiosyncratic approach to prep with (a revolving roster of ) accompanists, the undercurrent of pride in belies his matter of fact tone, especially as he recounts his greater reliance on intuition than pure technique.

Track-by-track observations within the booklet's eight pages crystallize that attitude, but nowhere near so fully as actually listening to Dennis Coffey play guitar. His is a effortless handling of his instrument bespeaks a liberation from the (relative) constrictions of his many years in studio sessions, but nonetheless radiates an innate sense of discipline that no doubt derives directly from that rigor. Thus, his highly-evolved but nonetheless natural approach makes each one of his solo turns (and, in its own way, his background comping as well) sound like perfectly logical progression from start to finish, a summary that quite well applies to Live at Baker's as a whole.

Track Listing: Little Sunflower; Chicago Song; Scorpio; Moonlight In Vermont; Just My Imagination; The Sermon; All Blues; Way Back Home; Dink’s Blues.

Personnel: Dennis Coffey: guitar; Demetrius Nabors: keyboards; Damon Warmack: bass; Gaelynn McKinney: drums.

Title: Live at Baker's | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Omnivore Recordings

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