Matt Baker Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Underground
Australian-born Matt Baker is another musician we probably wouldn’t have heard from, if recording technology hadn’t made it so easy to self-produce CDs. Baker plays piano and Fender Rhodes, composes and teaches. He began with classical piano at age 5, discovered jazz at 12 and began teaching when he was 16; after two decades, that remains his primary source of income.
Baker has traveled extensively throughout his career. He was a jazz staple in his homeland while young, but he also spent a lot of time in both Europe and the United States. He was associated with the Montreux Jazz Festival for several years, and led the festival jazz club’s in-house band at one time. He also was a semi-finalist in the Montreux International Solo Jazz Piano competition in both 2004 and ’05. He moved to New York City in 2010.
His basic group is usually a trio or quartet, but for this — his debut CD — he added a trumpet (Jeremy Pelt) and tenor sax (Dayna Stephens). Baker’s rhythm section includes bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
The eight tracks here include three standards (“If I Were a Bell,” “Mood Indigo” and “The Gypsy”) and five of his own compositions. As often is the case, the standards demonstrate the group’s ability to swing more fluently than the originals do. The artists have played the “old tunes” hundreds of times, and don’t need to think about melodic lines and chord changes, which permits total concentration on improvisation.
That observation notwithstanding, this is a smooth combo and a pleasure to hear. Baker plays sensitively; he has total command of the keyboard and reminds me of Benny Green at times.
He and his combos won’t have any trouble finding fans or work.