A great article in the French Magazine Jazz Hot!!
Ronald Baker Quintet
Celebrating Nat King Cole
I’m Lost / Five Brothers, That Ain’t Right, Walkin’ My Baby Back Home / Swingin’ My Baby Back Home, L-O-V-E, Suite for Nat, Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You, Come Along with Me, Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, Straighten up and Fly Right
Ronald Baker (tp, voc, arr), Jean-Jacques Taïb (ts, cl), Alain Mayeras (p, arr), David Salesse (b, arr), Mario Gonzi (dm) +China Moses (voc), Michele Hendricks (voc), Jesse Davis (as) + The Alhambra-Colbert String Orchestra
Enregistré en novembre 2013, Rochefort (17)
Durée : 1′ 04′ 16”
Cristal Records 224 (Harmonia Mundi)
For several years, the Nat King Cole universe happens to be the subject of a reading of a great deal of artists and / or groups with very diverse aesthetic. In the classical jazz pianist continuity, we remember the very mastered album, Hey !, Nat Stan Laferrière (Djaz 2 537 Records, 2000) and the equally fine contribution of Jacques Schneck in his 3 for Swing and Play sings Nat King Cole (JS2012, 2012). In 1998, Marcus Roberts gave a modernized version of the tradition with Cole After Midnight (Columbia 69781). And more recently, an artist that was not expected in such a register, David Murray, proposed in 2011, together with his Cuban orchestra who appeared in many European festivals, and Plays Nat King Cole en Español (Universal 0602527538709) for the less exotic and far removed from its roots jazz once “hotement” claimed. Nat has always fascinated his fellow jazz musicians; at a time when jazz was still only music of a civilization or one culture, which had not flirted with the sirens of showbiz, his colleagues saw in his success – a general ambition and meeting of a major problem in American society – singer of “international pop” a way out of the shadows, community cultural confidentiality, underground followers and even the miseries of their ghetto. Moreover, after the orgy of contemporary dissonances, harmonic aggression musical innovations, the insipidity of various mergers and soilless culture of world music, the rigorous construction and lyricism without sentimentality the universe of jazz well rooted, as very present in the directory King Cole, have not failed to attract artists come to maturity; ephemeral surprises of the new kitchen, the tasty treats of Uncle Nat, like the sound memory, less uncertain time madeleine, delight; at least as much as the public tired of too infrequently unsuccessful trials.
Uncompromising, Celebrating King Cole falls therefore in the general trend of our time looking more assured basis and participants – all of whom have passed a certain age and no longer need to “demonstrate” to exist – experience in this session obvious pleasure. Apart from a few forays into the 50′s or 60′s the album directory is essentially borrowed from the American period of 1940, the year in which King Cole continues, although already entered into “pop”, to feed his jazz culture. It should be noted the overall holding of Ronald Baker Quintet, his musical qualities. This group plays music that is fluent; it’s jazz, with its essential ingredient, swing, it serves with intelligence and sensitivity by using all the tools of this idiom. The arrangements are for both the quintet and the strings, outstanding balance and clarity. Here the musicians are sought with subtlety in their already great individual talent and in their arduous sets and sometimes “twisted” in the introduction (“Swingin ‘My Baby Back Home”) by formidable orchestrations, whose lyricism, without slipping into poor taste . It always swings.
The organization of musical moments in the album is not foreign to the minutes of each item in relation to those around him. On the first four tracks we find a festive classic jazz, which “swings” riffs in 4/4, the last four have a tone more serious and less classic and “uncertain” pace (the establishment of the desired tempo ostentino on “Quizas”, as the sequence of “Smile” to “For Sentimental Reasons” on the initial leitmotif installed by the piano Mayeras is of great finesse and beautifully introduced). Last but not least, the album ends on a joyous note, “Straighten up and Fly Right” to find his joy as it should be in an evocation of King Cole. Between these two quatrains, the Suite for Nat, built around a main leitmotif “how destiny” for links between the five movements, is conceived as a poetic sinfonietta which allows the listener to let time elapse memories and musicians to evoke a false glamor King Cole, a musician lighter and more intimate until his nostalgic tenderness in his records that were in some heavy moments of the war, with men and women separated by this event a more important emotional role there appeared to some.
At the risk of betraying, it was hardly possible to evoke King Cole without singing. And this album is entirely sung. To break the risk of monotony , Ronald Baker, who is giving from the heart , enlisted two female acolytes, if not opposing characters at least very different: the mature musician steeped in this culture, Michele Hendricks and the sparkling, playful, and spontaneous natured China Moses (“Gee Baby”). The opposition of styles creates the variety on the whole; and the assay is assured with tact. Because each in its register brings its share of talent and surprise.
Similarly, telling King Cole without resorting to a saxophonist would have been in bad taste. We know his recordings with Lester Young in 1942, with Illinois Jacquet and Jack McVea to JATP already in 1944. Having a tenor in his own formation, Ronald Baker has had the good taste of choosing an alto sax soloist to put light in this music . Now King Cole appealed twelve times to a remarkable alto player, now forgotten, Willie Smith: the first time in 1953 in a large orchestra, an experience he had the opportunity to repeat several times with the orchestras of Billy May and Nelson Riddle, but especially with his quartet Sept. 14, 1956, to record his formidable Capitol album, Nat “King” Cole and His Trio, After Midnight. Jesse Davis fulfills this role to perfection; because, while having his own very personal style, he found in his relationship with the music of King Cole’s so special iridescent colors in the themes that swing (“LOVE”) and tender accents (“The Christmas Song) sweet / bitter, dark or even painful altoist of Jimmie Lunceford (“Smile”, “For Sentimental Reasons”, “Nature Boy,” “I’m Thru With Love”).
The Alhambra-Colbert String Orchestra directed by Arnaud Chataigner holds its part perfectly. The voicing of the orchestra is remarkable; he fills his role with all the panache that you would expect from this type of ensemble in a musical environment of this kind. If guests bring much to this album, it would be unfair and unfounded to ignore the tremendous performance of members of the Quintet. Never crushing his colleagues that supports and stimulates wisely, drummer Mario Gonzi is omnipresent. David Salesse is a perfect companion in his implementation and his interventions (exposition of the theme of “I’m Thru With Love” or solo on “Come Along With Me”) remaining balanced and perfectly in tune. Jean-Jacques Taïb shows great mastery and a warm welcome spontaneity throughout this album; his chase ts / as with Jesse Davis on “LOVE” no shortage of vocabulary. And very efficient on the blues solos in “That Aint Right” or “Come Along With Me “, “Swingin ‘My Baby” and in the “rhythm & bluesy”style of David Fathead Newman “Straighen up”.
It remains the last two acolytes, Alain and Ronald, who shared the task of setting mischievous and surprising deconstructions previously made by the famous native from Montgomery. Mayeras did an exceptional job of orchestration, in as many different registers of this volume. The pianist, who is in charge of making Nat present, is no less brilliant. His way of accompanying, allowing the soloists to breath (scat in Swingin ‘My Baby “) are reminiscent of Larskin Ellis and Jimmy Jones, two of his heirs in the way of conceiving the relationship voice / piano. And nothing to spoil his spontaneous generosity in piano dialogue / orchestra evokes in turn one of Nat’s masters Fatha Hines, and the likes of Nat, Ray Charles in the R & B of “Straighten Up and Fly Right “.
As for Baker, he radiates all his talents on these 13 tracks; it is simply amazing. It will be a real revelation for those who have not had the opportunity to hear him in concert. Just great, the singer honors to him that is being payed tribute to. As for scatting, he is obviously much higher, Nat never played in this court. And as the trumpet is second in nothing … His solos are extraordinarily filled with accuracy and feeling. At 47, Ronald has reached full musical maturity; His perfect instrumental mastery and rich musicality – a form of lyricism that perfectly suits the Colien universe – places him amongst the greatest musicians and instrumentalists such as Roy Hargrove, for example. This album proves that Ronald Baker is a great trumpet player that every jazz lover should hear and listen to.
Celebrating Nat King Cole is better than a great surprise; it’s simply a great album, worthy of inclusion in all nightclubs. You never get bored. And it swings like hell!
Felix W. Sportis
The original article in French: http://www.jazzhot.net/PBCPPlayer.asp?ID=1590136