RINGER OF THE WEEK
There aren't a lot of male vocalists who stray form the same old Great American Songbook, so a guy like Jeff Baker immediately grabs my attention, and should yours. He's got a low tenor-high baritone sound, and his style is like a troubadour, telling stories that feel personal and observant. You can't beat his ensemble here, as it includes Brian Blade/dr, Steve Wilson/as, Marquis Hill/tp, Darrell Grant/p, Clark Sommers/b, Geof Bradfield/ts, Gregory Uhlmann/g and a warm string quartet for added textures. He's delightfully vulnerable on a closing duet with Grant on "Don't Worry About Me," but for the most part sings his own material or takes some ringers, such as a Samuel Barber stringed "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" which undulates for 7 minutes to a dramatic buildup, or a dreamy Bill Evansy piano for a thoughtful take of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." Baker has a unique ability to slowly let the lyrics build in intensity as on the thoughtful and misty take of Bonnie Raitt's "Not Cause I Wanted To" while the dreamy voices and horns meld for an earnest "Neruda" and "Lost." This guy's got a lot to say, and says it well!