Dave Baker, a very skilled acoustic guitarist, performs music that is impossible to classify. A musical force in the Philadelphia area for quite a few years in settings ranging from a big band to fusion, 20 years ago he founded the DAB Music to document his solo playing and highly individual music. Since then he has released seven CDs including his previous set Blended.
20/20 celebrates the 20th anniversary of the DAB label by featuring 19 selections drawn from the earlier releases plus the newly recorded “Everything She Does Is Magic.” The focus is primarily on the guitarist (who sometimes overdubs additional parts) although some performances include duets with cellist Rich Kurtz (who is occasionally heard on bass) and bassist Lenny Fatigati or a larger band with percussionists. The music is consistently melodic, thought-provoking and often cinematic. While Dave Baker’s mixture of single-note lines and chords sometimes recalls Joe Pass a little, he is also inspired by classical guitarists, Latin music and some pop and folk stylists.
The 20 performances are so accessible that they do not require extensive in-depth analysis in order to enjoy and appreciate, so I will just point out a few highlights. On the opening “Pride In The Name Of Love,” Baker displays his ability to build and builds his solo to create dense structures while still remaining melodic throughout. “Ricky, Don’t Lose That Number,” which can be considered instrumental folk music, has the guitarist showing that he is very much a one-man orchestra. “Sailing” is thoughtful and peaceful, fitting its title, while “Marry Me” is particularly romantic, with fine playing from cellist Kurtz. After the waltz “Catalina Kiss,” Baker interprets the rock anthem “Fields Of Gold” gently but in a celebratory mood.
“Oceans Apart” is an impressionistic and pretty waltz while “Bright” has close interplay with the bassist and plenty of subtle creativity. The classical-type melody of “A Thousand Years” contrasts with the energetic treatment given “Playing For Time.” “Keis Song” features both a warm melody and a feeling of mystery. “Autumn Leaves” has been recorded a countless number of times through the years but Dave Baker comes up with some fresh ideas that make his version sound brand new while always keeping the melody close by.
The jubilant “Still Trying” is a change of pace that features the guitarist with the larger group which includes Howard Isaacson on sax. “Hello, It’s Me” has a catchy and laidback theme for solo guitar. Both the emotional “Carnival Of Lights” and “Never Been Better” are quite involved and display Dave Baker’s rich chord voicings. The Latin side of Baker’s musical personality comes out during the exciting “Conquest” with the larger band. “The Pink Panther” is given a whimsical treatment while “The Tempest” has plenty of energy and features the guitarist playing straight ahead jazz. The pleasing program closes with the mellow but joyful closer “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.’
20/20 gives listeners a definitive sampling of the music of Dave Baker.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76