Satsuma Time
The Advent Invasion

The Tom Baker Quartet: SAVE

I reviewed (favorably) the Tom Baker Quartet’s first album, Look What I Found, last year here. I’ve been listening to their second album, SAVE, off and on for a couple of months now, and on the whole I like it even better. My taste for unstructured music is limited, and most of SAVE is more conventional than Look What I Found; it’s somewhat more tuneful and less abstract.

Even in its more accessible manifestations, though, TBQ’s music is not easily categorized. As Jesse Canterbury, the clarinetist in the group, pointed out to me, they resemble a jazz group in many ways, and yet they really don’t play jazz. Even when a jazz-like structure is used, there are few bluesy moments, and the rhythms are not especially jazzy for the most part (though you feel like the rhythm section is very capable of playing jazz). The clarinet solo in “Bit by Bitt,” for instance, sounds to me like it owes more to early 20th century Vienna than to Kansas City or Chicago. (There is one bona fide jazz tune here, by Bill Evans no less: the beautiful “Time Remembered.”)

However one decides to categorize this music, I really like it. One comparison that occurs to me is the instrumental music of Frank Zappa, which is very 20th Century Modern without being squarely in that tradition, and which likewise borrows from jazz and rock without fitting those categories, either. There’s also a whimsical, possibly absurdist, quality that reminds me of Zappa.

My favorite tracks here are the ones composed by Tom Baker. Besides being engagingly tuneful, they have some really terrific clarinet and guitar solos. The tracks which are credited to the entire group seem to be group improvisations, and are generally quiet and without distinctive rhythm, so they come across more as sort of textural interludes between the more distinctive pieces, not unpleasant but not especially memorable (though I think there are some technically difficult things going on).

Here is a sort of commercial for the band which will give you an idea of what they’re all about.

And here is a live performance of perhaps my favorite tune from SAVE, “Under the Jaguar Sun”:

Here is the group’s official web site, where you can hear and download a complete track from SAVE and one from Look What I Found. (And you womenfolk who may not be all that interested in the music but like babies should also take a look.)

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