eff Baker's first major exposure came at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, backed by the Lionel Hampton Trio. The vocalist was sixteen years old at the time. He'd won the Jazz Fest's solo vocal competion, and he had the word "promising" written all over him. He has since released three CDs on OA2, the promising Baker Sings Chet (2004), the excellent Monologue (2005), and now the near-perfect Shopping for Your Heart.
The "just play" recording approach employed for this set suits Baker's style. He sounds relaxed, his cool, smooth vocals rolling like a flow of a snowmelt stream. His silky delivery has matured and his voice has coarsened a bit, if ever so slightly, on the opener, Miles Davis' "All Blues." It all comes together here: Jeff Johnson's thick bass throb opens the tune; drummer John Bishop bumps along with Johnson's bounce. Pianist Bill Anschell -- once Nnenna Freelon's musical director -- flashes into the mix with sharp bursts of clean light, and about four and a half minutes in, saxophonist Brent Jensen weaves his a tart tone into the mix. This sound -- the songs, the arrangements, the musicianship, the group dynamic, the singing -- is near perfection, and at just a touch over eight minutes, the piece ends too soon.
Baker's chosen his material well. Classics like "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Time After Time" -- familiar Sinatra vehicles -- mix it up with jazz tunes: Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite" and "Billie's Bounce" (Baker's bebop chops will knock you out), along with pop hits like like Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me" and James Taylor's "Mean Old Man."
Put away those "emerging talent" or "promising" descriptions for Jeff Baker. Shopping for Your Heart proves that he's one of the finest vocalists on the scene.