Pianist Bob Baldwin grew up with music in his bones. His father Robert Baldwin, Sr., (1926-2008) was also a jazz pianist who worked with bass legends Keter Betts and Art Davis. His cousin, Larry Willis, also a legendary jazz pianist, is known for his association with Blood, Sweat and Tears/Jerry Gonzalez & Fort Apache Band. With older men in his family influencing a young Baldwin, the osmosis of their influence was inevitable—Baldwin would also become a leading figure on piano. Bob Baldwin, in his own right, has been a force for the contemporary jazz idiom. His latest recording Henna is his thirty-first album, and features twenty-one contributing artists, with tracks 1-6 solidified by his New York-based band of 30 years, Dave Anderson on bass, Tony Lewis on drums, and Cafe Da Silva percussion. The album focuses on Baldwin’s breezy original tunes, while choice covers uplift and convey lively morale.
“I Heard You Twice (The First Time)” opens Henna. Lush with keyboard voicings, Anderson’s warming full bass dances with Lewis’ drums and Da Silva’s percussion. The melody is played by Baldwin. Each section has its own sound, with call and response between the melody and fills. Baldwin doubles the melody line with his voice to add an organic color. Da Silva and Lewis keep the groove consistent as Baldwin and Anderson handle the harmonic layers. The bridge is a tutti of Baldwin singing in unison with his keyboard, which leads us to his solo for a satisfying adventure. He is very conscious of his phrasing, keeping the call and response theme alive even in his solo statement. The use of lyrics in one section is more in service of creating an effect of colorization than a prominent vocal feature. Baldwin is a master at establishing a groove and exploring the many possibilities it has to offer.
“Food for Thought” is based around Anderson’s massive bass sound. His electric bass resonates with full luster in the low register and oscillates with a singing quality in the upper register. Baldwin’s melody is a study in less is more as he uses space to make the uncomplicated melody come alive with personality and groove. The rhythm section of Anderson, Lewis, and Da Silva creates a feel that Baldwin’s keyboard figures dance upon. His soloing is again themed, similar to the melody in that he uses space as an improvisational tool just as he uses fast single-note melodies, which builds the track to a satisfying climax and gives the composition a definite form and flow.
Throughout Henna, Baldwin once again conveys a sophisticated and uptown personification of contemporary jazz. His compositions, along with well-chosen covers, offer a deeply felt groove and a cosmopolitan worldliness, that is resplendent in form and fashion.
I Heard You Twice (The First Time); In The Print; Sorry (Not Sorry); Henna; Food For Thought; A Brazilian Love Affair; No Longer Lost; Long Weekend (See You on Tuesday); Keep Movin’; Club Life; Fly Breeze; In The Moment; Club Life; Long Weekend (See you on Tuesday) Radio Edit.