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Joining the ranks of young vibraphonists with skills galore, Jalen Baker brings a lot to the table on his debut record, This is Me, This is Us. Like Joel Ross, Sasha Berliner and Warren Wolfthe last of whom provides liner notes for the albumBaker's ambition goes beyond instrumental virtuosity. His compositional aims are just as impressive, as he offers a string quartet to complement several of his smartly written pieces, many of which reference pressing social and political challenges.
The strings make their presence felt early on, providing the lush backdrop and much of the energy of the opener, "So Help Me God," with trumpeter Giveton Gelin in top form, surging over a rich tapestry of sound. "Don't Shoot" combines an understated urgency with a plaintive poignancy befitting the track's evocation of fraught policing practices. Here too Gelin shines with a scintillating solo, although Baker brings the goods as well with a solo statement remarkable for its lyricism and patient development.
Muted tones predominate for much of the album, with Baker and bandmates content to present a spirit of soft-spoken, yet assured, resilience. Although some listeners might want a bit more fire, there's no denying the melodic strength of pieces like "Healing" and "Patience," which build their intensity in oblique ways but still remain compelling. The latter track is another aided with a fine arrangement for the strings, drawing on Baker's emotional instincts quite powerfully. And the band is not immune from laying down a groove either, with "Faith" finding drummer Gavin Moolchan adroitly working the brushes in tandem with bassist Gabriel Godoy, whose gregarious solo rides the rhythm with confident brio.
Finishing with a lovely unaccompanied rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today," Baker finds the perfect inspiration for his vision: one which remains resolutely hopeful amidst momentous strruggles. It's a tonic for a troubled age, and, in summer 2021, this promising debut couldn't come at a better time.
So Help Me God; Don’t Shoot; Interlude (Prayer for the Fallen); Healing; Patience; We Regret to Inform You; Praise;
Faith; Obey Disobey; Love’s in Need of Love Today.