Tom Baker Quartet
Look What I Found

(Present Sounds Recordings)

Once again, I find something mysterious waiting for me inside my mailbox. I have a look at the line-up appearing on the cover of the CD, and I immediately fear the worst: here we have clarinet, double bass, drums and guitar - and "jazz guitar" is far from being my favourite instrument! Listening to the music, however, will present me with a totally different panorama, showing an album that is really worth a listen. The four musicians in the group (who, at least judging from the picture which appears on the CD cover, are all thirty-something) are very fine players, definitely accustomed to each other; all have a nice sound on their instruments, even if their sound is not (yet?) easy to recognize as being "their sound" after just from one note. Here are the names: Tom Baker on guitar, also fretless; Jesse Canterbury on clarinet and bass clarinet; Greg Campbell on drums and percussion; Brian Cobb on double bass.

The CD features ten tracks: six compositions - four written by the leader, two by the double bass player - and four improvisations; at first, I thought it would had been better if those four improvisations had been left off the CD, since I thought they diluted the whole: in fact, at more than 60 minutes, the CD is a bit on the long side, and though the music is never really "difficult", nonetheless it requires one's complete attention - and the home/cell phones switched off; but then I changed my mind: being of the kind where players proceed by keeping in mind the whole picture, the improvisations show a different side of the quartet, and so they definitely make for a more varied CD.

The sound of the album is very clear, at times almost austere, and this is a good match for the melodies and the climates of this quartet. Spotting specific influences is not easy: I'd say the guitarist has certainly listened to the work of both Fripp and Frith, but it's entirely possible that he has listened to some classical composers whom the aforementioned guitar players hold dear to their hearts; in a similar way, the clarinet reminded me more of Univers Zero than of any jazz, but this has probably more to do with the instrumental pronunciation of this particular player than with any other issue.

Swampled opens the album with a jerky theme, swinging but irregular; a spiky guitar, a "classical-sounding" clarinet; here I almost feared the apparition of a "skronk" guitar; instead, we have a solemn clarinet, a guitar playing arpeggios, and also clear percussion. Maybe there's something a bit Fripp-like on the theme that opens Grace, with the clarinet interlocking with/playing against the guitar; another theme follows, sounding a bit "progressive"; then a guitar solo ending with chords, then a "jazzy" clarinet solo.

Composed by the double bass player, Family Of Four sounds a lot like classical music, with a soft clarinet and a guitar in the background playing just one note - quite weird!; then, we have a theme played unison by guitar and clarinet, followed by an interesting development: first a double bass solo, then very trebly-sounding percussion. Eight minutes that fly away in a hurry.

Anton And Louis has an austere clarinet backed by drums played using brushes, and a nice melodic/jazzy solo by the guitar with the double bass in a "pedal" role. Free Steps starts with percussion, then a guitar loop plus double bass harmonics which create something that to me sounded quite similar to some atmospheres composed by Hugh Hopper on his album 1984; over this "sonic landscape" we have a clarinet going from serene to sad, then a feedback guitar though a volume pedal.

Written by the double bass player, Metamorphosis Happens has an unusual, interesting unison of clarinet and guitar, which to me sounds as going through a (kind of?) Whammy Pedal. Then we have a second theme, and then a third (sounding almost like a boogie!); after various instrumental episodes, it's back to theme one.

A plus of the album is the fact that it keeps the listener guessing about what's gonna happen next (even after a few listening sessions). There's room for improvement, though: in my opinion, many compositions on the album sound unresolved.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007 | Mar. 4, 2007