The uniquely thoughtful and penetrating insights offered by Jeff Baker in an earlier recording, Of Things Not Seen (OA2 Records, 2009) (and indeed all of his other recordings as well) led to high expectations of Phrases - especially as the music is sung in such illustrious company, with Darrell Grant and others. And we are not disappointed. As one may hear on this album, from the very start, Mr. Baker's bouquet of poetic vocals is lightly held, thanks in no small part to Mr. Grant's influence in lightening and focusing Mr. Baker's lustrous tenor, so that we are not blown away by outbreaths of intensity.
And the sense of awe and wonder which hovers over this entire recital is particularly close-focused in in the music that (further) adorns the poetry of Pablo Neruda on "Neruda", which is based on an iconic poem from his book Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair. Mr. Grant's piano playing is the ever-shifting heartbeat behind the wonderfully supple expressive contours of Mr. Baker's voice, eloquently tracing those of Neruda's lyric verse. Mr. Grant (and, indeed other musicians as well) seldom allow Mr. Baker to become vocally side-tracked by the intensity of his moment-by-moment response; rather, vocalist and pianist recreate together elusive movement of the music's whispered breath and being. One feels likewise with the pieces "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and "Salinger".
From the very start of "Neruda" (as in the other songs too) Mr. Grant again ensures clarity and evenness of pace, through Mr. Baker's beautifully poised, sighing breath. He powerfully supports the piercing anguish of loss in his high register, and the dark longing and despair expressed within Mr. Baker's chest voice. This performance revealingly searches out the music's paradoxes of life and death, dream and reality, time and eternity. And the emotional narrative of the musicians' - especially Mr. Grant's - instrumental performances continues long after Mr. Baker's breath-taking vocal disembodiment.