Duck Baker Plays Monk (Triple Point Records)
Duck Baker (Richard Royal Baker IV) may not be a household name among jazz devotees at large, but in his career of more than four decades he has become a hero to other guitarists. He has led or been involved in dozens of recordings of folk music from all over the world, and several varieties of ragtime, gospel, bluegrass and blues. Baker is an exemplary performer and teacher of what is often called fingerstyle or fingerpicking guitar. To oversimplify the approach, let’s just say that he plays using his fingertips and nails rather than a pick held in the right hand. That creates not only technical challenges, but also harmonic opportunities that Baker masterfully exploits. In concentrating on music by Thelonious Monk, Baker melds his own imagination and daring with the deep harmonic and rhythmic implications of Monk’s compositions. In his notes accompanying this Vinyl LP, he recalls that in his teens he graduated instantly from rock and roll to jazz when he heard Monk’s album Misterioso. He writes, “Within a minute two I was completely hooked.”
In this perfectly recorded album he includes “Misterioso with eight other Monk pieces. His work is impressive throughout, particularly so in the irresistible forward motion of “Bemsha Swing” and the intricacies of “Jackie-ing.” Not from the album, but from a 2016 YouTube video, here is Baker introducing “Blue Monk” and referring to his long history with the tune.
In addition to Baker’s own liner notes, the LP’s generous insert page has an essay by the late trombonist Roswell Rudd. Rudd’s piece is full of insights into Monk’s tunes and Baker’s playing. Of Baker’s solo on “In Walked Bud,” Rudd writes, “Third and fourth improvised choruses it’s suddenly a blazing horn solo culminating in a quote: ‘Ol Man River.’ I’m still laughing.”
You may laugh, too, if you can laugh with your jaw dropping at Baker’s wit and virtuosity.