MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
Bob Baldwin leads this sizeable project with no fewer than 21 musicians and/or singers in the credits with a repertoire that’s as justifiably wide. This is the 31st album for the New York state born contemporary jazz pianist, composer, author and producer. His dad was also a jazz pianist, having worked with legendary bassists Keter Betts and Art Davis. Baldwin’s cousin is the legendary jazz pianist Larry Willis.
The album title is derived from “the powdered leaves of a tropical shrub, uses a dye to color the hair and decorate the body. We suppose it’s his way of conveying a natural and organic feel to the recording. It is a contemporary recording the emphasis on electric piano, keyboards, and layers more than the acoustic. Baldwin also demonstrates versatility by singing, playing bass, drums, and vocoder on select tracks. Some of it, to be fair, borders on smooth jazz but much is breezy R&B, especially in the first half where the backing unit is a quartet with Café Da Silva on percussion, Tony Lewis on drums and his bassist of 30 years Dave Anderson.
The army of guests begin arriving by the seventh track with D.C-based Lori Williams taking the vocal on the Stevie Wonder-like “No Longer Lost,” giving it a sultry timbre in a Quincy Jones-like arrangement. Flutist Ragan Whiteside steps in for “Long Weekend (See You on Tuesday). She has ascended the Top-five Billboard charts four times since 2017.
One can easily trace the influence of George Duke in Baldwin’s style and, in fact, he cites both Duke and Joe Sample as inspirations for the project. Both passed earlier this decade, but Baldwin spoke with each of them just weeks before their untimely passings. “We Pianists/Keyboardists have to stick together. Sample and Duke were great artists and great elders of the genre. I learned a lot from the fruit,” Baldwin says. Baldwin composed all tunes but Duke’s “A Brazilian Love Affair” which he performs for Duke as a tribute.
The centerpiece of the album is “Club Life,” written years ago and recorded by saxophonist Marion Meadows along with the lion’s share of the many guests including Rohn Lawrence (rhythm guitar), Walter Beasley (sax), Tom Browne (trumpet), Whiteside and Williams, Marcus Anderson (talk box), Brooke Alford (violin), Joey Sommerville (trumpet), Oli Silk , Barry Danielan (trumpet), and West Coast guitarists Nils and U-Nam who are especially prominent on the epic 10+ minute track. “Fly Breeze” features a septet with Whiteside on flute, Tre Gilbert on bass, Chris Harris on guitarists with Danielan on trumpet and Fred Vigdor on sax. Jorel “J-Fly” Flynn mans the traps as in the does the quarter setting for “In the Moment.” A radio edit of “Club Life” closes.
This writer does not typically cover smooth jazz, and to be sure, that’s what most of this is. However, there’s enough funk and R&B flavor, owing to echoes of Sample and Duke to keep this one in your player/on your turntable in the late evenings.