One need only read the producer's name of this fine multi-vocalists disc to understand its daring and probing personality. Jeff Baker has recorded several releases for the OA2 imprint of OriginArts, including Baker Sings Chet
(2005), Shopping For Your Heart
(2007), and, most recently, Of Things Not Seen
Baker is a durable, talented vocalist, who also has a talent for teaching and instruction as evidenced by his appointment as vocal director at ArtsWest School for the Performing Arts in Eagle, Idaho. It is in this capacity that Baker has assembled eight very talented high school students performing 12 thoughtful pieces on the current collection, Redefinition
. The level of professionalism and individualism in these young vocalists is delightfully surprising.
But recordings like this are not without risk. There always exists the threat of uneven performances in these collections. Baker avoids this pitfall by using a sextet of OriginArts artists as the band. Directed and arranged by pianist Justin Nielsen (ArtsWest Artistic Director) Redefinition
keeps its shape very well. Nielsen's playing is both informative and probing. He melds well with his soloists as evidenced by the climax duel he has with saxophonist Brent Jensen (We Couldn't Agree More
(Origin Records, 2009)) on "My Man's Gone Now." The pianist does the same with guitarist John McLean (Better Angels
(Origin Records, 2007) on the cathartic "Much Farther to Go."
The vocal standouts are also the most problematic. Cari Stevens' cover of Cindi Lauper's "Time After Time" is a troubled revelation. Too slow by an eon, Stevens voice is informed by Rohypnol and honey. In spite of this, the song demands multiple listenings. John McLean's Bill Frisell-volume modulations further enhance the songs intoxicating mood and the song succeeds on its dense uniqueness.
Karmen Wolf's "Both Sides Now" is similar in its below-the-water tone. Nielsen and drummer (and OA house favorite) John Bishop season the song with percussive brilliance. Wolf is assertive, throwing caution to the wind. Her Alto voice, while not yet completely comfortable, is rich and resonant. The sole male in the mix, Harris Long, sings the demanding spiritual "City Called Heaven," which is perhaps shows the greatest influence of producer Baker, considering his recent Of Things Not Seen
It is gratifying that is risky project pays off so well. The material and performances are well off the beaten path, keeping the offering fresh and interesting.