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Andrew Baker


by Ian Mann

April 11, 2024


Baker is a hugely talented and restlessly creative instrumentalist and composer with an interest in many different areas of music. The scope of the album is impressive, he clearly has ideas to burn.

Andrew Baker


(UnderPool Records UNDP071)

Andrew Baker – tenor & soprano saxophones, nylon string guitar, EHX 95000, Albert Bower – grand piano, toy piano, Masa Kamaguchi – double bass, Carlos Farlanga – drums, Elektron Octatrack MK1, Felix Rossy – trumpet, Sara Lilu – voice

Andrew Baker is a Scottish born saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser now based in Barcelona. He studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow where his saxophone tutors included Tommy Smith and Julian Arguelles. He then attained a Masters in Jazz Performance and Modern Music from the Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona, where he studied with the American saxophonist and educator Bill McHenry.

Baker has chosen to remain in Barcelona but still returns to the UK on a fairly regular basis. In March 2024 I enjoyed a performance by his quartet at a Clun Valley Jazz event in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, which saw him joined by three London based Scots, pianist Tom Gibbs, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Corrie Dick. This was a gig that I attended as a paying customer so there is no review on this site.

I didn’t actually get to meet Andrew, who was catching up with family members after the show, although I did speak with all three of his bandmates. In any event he was made aware that I had been present and subsequently got in touch, kindly sending me a copy of his most recent album, “Warmi”, for review.

Baker has played with many leading figures on the international jazz and wider music scenes including musicians from the UK, USA, Europe, Peru Jamaica and Japan. In 2019 Baker released the live album “Espíritu”, recorded with a group of Peruvian musicians.

He also has an interest in electronic music and has worked in this area as both a DJ and a producer.

Released in July 2023 “Warmi” was recorded with a group of Barcelona based musicians at the studios owned by the UnderPool record label, also based in Barcelona.

According to Baker the album takes its title from “the concept of duality in the quechua cosmovision, the chacha-warmi (man-woman) creating a principle of duality and complementarity: team work”.

He adds;
“This record is a snapshot of my journey as a musician and composer over the last 4 years.  Many compositions stem from my time spent in the urban tropicalism of Barcelona and the musical relationships which ensued. I have had great pleasure sharing this music with musicians who play with deep wisdom, musical mastery and huge ears. An ensemble that is always willing to sail into the unknown within a heartbeat and to dive deep for pearls of beauty. “

The album liner notes also include endorsements from Bill McHenry and Barcelona born drummer / vibraphonist Jorge Rossy, the latter a bandleader in his own right but also well known for his long association with the American pianist Brad Mehldau.

Some of the pieces that were played at Bishop’s Castle appear on “Warmi”,  but inevitably the recorded versions sound very different thanks to the different combination of instruments, plus the use of voice and electronics.

“Warmi” features twelve original compositions by Baker, one co-written with Bill McHenry, and with vocalist Sara Lilu contributing to the lyrics on the song “Cachito”. The pieces reflect Baker’s interest in a wide range of musical styles and there’s an enjoyably eclectic quality about the music, a trait that was also manifested at that Bishop’s Castle live performance.

The album commences with “Shaman”, an attention grabbing opener that features the dazzling unison melody lines of Baker and trumpeter Felix Rossy. There’s a pronounced bebop flavour about the music and a strong Latin element too, but shot through with a very contemporary sensibility. Rossy takes the first solo on trumpet, powerful and fluent and sometimes reminiscent of Dizzy Gillespie. The leader’s solo follows, with Baker delivering a distinctive and idiosyncratic sound on soprano sax. Then it’s over to Albert Bover, the pianist cited as “the natural successor of Tete Montoliu”. Bover keeps the pot bubbling with a brilliant Afro-Cuban style solo, playing unaccompanied at one juncture. The full band then re-convenes for a final, breathless run through of the ‘head’. A word too for the rhythm team of bassist Masa Kamaguchi, a long time associate of Bover’s, and drummer Carlos Falanga, whose propulsive and energetic work in the ‘engine room’ helps to keep the soloists on their toes.

“Passatge” is less frenetic and introduces the distinctive wordless vocals of Sara Lilu. UK audiences may be reminded of the voice of Norma Winstone. Metronomic rhythmic figures generated by piano, double bass and brushed drums underpin the airy sounds of voice and tenor sax. Kamaguchi then steps forward to solo at the bass, with Bover and Falanga continuing to vamp behind him. There’s a change of direction as Bover then emerges from the shadows to solo lyrically and expansively. Vocalist Lilu returns, before a further directional shift takes the music into a hard driving closing section with the sounds of Afro-Cuban rhythms returning as Baker solos powerfully on tenor sax, with Lilu sometimes doubling his melodic lines. Bover then stretches out once more, this time in a more energetic and very different style than before.

“Warmi” itself features the sounds of breathy tenor sax and ethereal wordless vocals. It’s a driftingly atmospheric piece that includes an extended dialogue between Baker’s tenor and Lilu’s voice, subsequently joined by double bass and the skittering of brushed drums and the rustle of percussion. Bover then adds melodic rivulets of piano. As befits its inspiration there’s a distinctly spiritual quality about this performance.

The lyrical atmosphere continues into the instrumental “Tafers”, performed by the core quartet of Baker, Bover, Kamaguchi and Falanga. There’s a whimsical quality about Baker’s writing that sometimes reminds me of the ‘post Loose Tubes school’ (perhaps due to the influence of Julian Arguelles), and there’s something of that quality here on a piece that includes a powerfully plucked but highly melodic double bass solo from Kamaguchi. Elsewhere tenor sax and piano intertwine melodically and effectively as the music begins to gather momentum, with Baker stretching out more expansively, his sinuous melody lines consistently beguiling the listener.

I seem to recall “No Conditions Apply” being one of the pieces that was played at Bishop’s Castle. This is another quartet piece, introduced here by a passage unaccompanied double bass. The title suggests that the piece is a vehicle for improvisation and this seems to be much in evidence as Baker’s powerful, exploratory tenor takes centre stage above the loosely structured rumbling backdrop of piano, bass and drums. Bover takes over for a while, with the group temporarily in piano trio mode, before Baker returns for a more lyrical sax led coda. John Coltrane might be a handy reference point but there’s a very European sensibility about the music too.

The song “Cachito” features multi-instrumentalist Baker on nylon string guitar accompanying the voice and Spanish lyrics of Lilu, who originally hails from the Canary Islands. It’s a bewitching sound and one doesn’t have to understand the words to appreciate the beauty. The sounds of piano and drums are also added with Bover engaging in a brief dialogue with Baker’s guitar. Kamaguchi is the last band member to come on board and his powerful plucking helps to drive a more rhythmic section with Baker remaining on guitar. Another gear shift sees Lilu adding soaring wordless vocals to a powerful drum groove and Bover soloing joyously at the piano. A version of this piece was performed at Bishop’s Castle, but inevitably sounded totally different, but still in a good way.

“Improv” features the full sextet and I assume that the title is self explanatory as Lilu explores areas of extended vocal technique (think Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nichols) with Bover providing spiky Keith Tippett style piano accompaniment. The trio of Bover, Kamaguchi and Rossi then explore at a leisurely pace, with the emphasis on spaciousness and atmosphere. Things become darker with the re-introduction of Lilu, her extended vocal techniques becoming more and more extreme, almost frightening at times. She’s eventually replaced by Rossi’s trumpet, whose long lines are underscored by piano, bass and drums, with Baker eventually joining to intertwine with the trumpet. A long, atmospheric coda features a delicate blend of trumpet, tenor and voice. Baker’s compositions are rich, colourful and multi-faceted, and on this evidence these are qualities that he and his colleagues also bring to free improvisation.

There’s a return to more conventional jazz territory with the fiery bebop flavourings of “Cal Pep”, which features Rossy’s blazing trumpet alongside the leader’s muscular tenor. Baker takes the first solo, stretching out fluently, powerfully and at considerable length. He’s followed by Rossy, who displays similar qualities in a bravura solo that deploys a variety of trumpet techniques. Bover follows at the piano, his feverish solo followed by a dynamic drum feature from the impressive Falanga. Baker and Rossy then combine to take things storming out in a real blowing away of any cobwebs.

Co-written with Bill McHenry and dedicated to him “Bubbles” is an elegant contemporary jazz ballad which features the leader playing tenor with a quiet intensity as the other members of the core quartet provide sensitive accompaniment. Bover’s piano solo is gently lyrical and Kamaguchi’s bass solo spacious and melodic, although I have to confess that I find his admittedly low key vocalisations a little off-putting at times.

“Alabare” is another quartet performance with the leader delivering a lilting folk-like melody on tenor, leading to gently exploratory piano solo from Bover accompanied by Kamaguchi’s plangent bass and the skittering of Falanga’s brushed drums. Soft, breathy tenor then returns to the foreground on one of the album’s more impressionistic pieces.

The penultimate track, “Everlyn & Esme”, sees the return of Lilu whose wordless vocals are featured alongside Bover’s piano during the course of a brief (a little over two minutes) but beautiful duo performance.

The album concludes with “Outerlude”, an atmospheric piece that finally acknowledges Baker’s interest in electronic music and post production techniques. Kamaguchi’s double bass is featured prominently above an ambient soundscape presumably generated by Baker’s use of the EHX 95000 Loop Laboratory mentioned in the album credits. I assume that this also the track that features Falanga on the Electron Octatrack Sampler. There’s a vaguely dystopian feel about the music, but also a calming quality, a cool drink of water or a kind of palette cleanser after the rich and varied musical flavourings that the listener has enjoyed elsewhere on the album.

At over seventy minutes in length there’s a lot of music and a lot of ideas on “Warmi”. There may be some listeners who find it all a bit too much to take in but Baker is a hugely talented and restlessly creative instrumentalist and composer with an interest in many different areas of music. He clearly has ideas to burn and who can blame him for wanting to commit them all to disc, particularly in the company of such top quality musicians.

With the exception of Baker himself all the players are entirely new to me but I was hugely impressed with all of them, including the adventurous and versatile vocalist Sara Lilu.
Bover, Kamaguchi, Farlanga and Rossy are all exceptional instrumentalists and I’d be pleased to hear more from any of them. With Baker in the producer’s chair assisted by engineers Sergi Felipe and Euan Burton the sound is excellent throughout and serves all the musicians well.

The scope of the album is impressive, ranging through bebop, Latin, post bop, free improv and even electronica, yet it all hangs together to create a coherent whole, unified by Baker’s highly individual and idiosyncratic vision. I’m reminded of the work of musicians such as Julian Arguelles and Iain Ballamy, but ultimately Baker’s music is very much his own.

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