Jen Baker performs in various groups, every night from Monday, Feb. 7 through Friday, Feb. 11. Details below.
Jen Baker — Blue Dreams (Dilapidated Barns, 2008)
She calls it “lyrical vibrations:” the music that can be produced by singing into the trombone while playing. The parallel tracks of melody come out in a buzzy, growling sound that’s quite close to Tuvan throat singing. It’s certainly something different.
Before leaving the Bay Area for New York — where she’s now part of the madcap Asphalt Orchestra — Jen Baker was working on this concept, exploring its musical possibilities. She’ll be back this week in a series of improv shows where I would assume she’ll continue that exploration — and try out whatever other techniques she’s been interested in.
There is admittedly a sameness to the lyrical vibrations tracks on Blue Dreams. With the exception of “Pip Squeak,” a cute dijeridoo-like hoedown, the music is all improvised. But the music is toneful — that is, it doesn’t come from the sound-sculpture school of abstract improv. In addition to the Tuvans, Baker lists Gregorian chant as an influence, and her shares the same sense of “meandering melodic lines,” as she puts it in the liner notes.
The melodies process slowly, not surprising considering the trombone isn’t as fleet an instrument as, say, a piccolo. Some of the most interesting effects come when the vocal and trombone melodies diverge. More often, I think the trombone or vocal holds one note while the other instrument varies in pitch, creating something almost like a dijeridoo drone but not quite. “Neptunian Love Song,” the longest track on the album (5 minutes) is packed with both types of moments.
Careful listening also reveals different kinds of interference between the voice and trombone, creating little pulses in the long tones. Baker hits a couple of these delicious dissonances early in “17 Unpredictably Disappears,” one of the album’s more abrasive melodies.
For some samples, check Baker’s web site.
Here’s her upcoming calendar (see also BayImproviser or the Transbay Calendar). Lyrical vibrations won’t be the only musical tool she’ll use, but I would expect it to be a big part of some of these shows, especially the Mills events.
Mon., Feb. 7 — Solo performance at the Mills College Ensemble Room. Free.
Tues., Feb. 8 — Quartet that includes Tony Dryer (bass) and Jacob Felix Heule (drums), 2/3 of the spacious improv trio Idea of West. At The Uptown, opening for the Oakland Active Orchestra. Free.
Weds., Feb. 9 — In various improv combinations with Phillip Greenlief (sax), Ava Mendoza (guitar), and Lisa Mezzacappa (bass). At Mama Buzz Cafe, $5.
Thurs., Feb. 10 — Baker (mostly) takes over the weekly Luggage Store Gallery show, performing solo and in trio. Sliding scale admission, $6-$10.
Fri., Feb. 11 — Back at Mills, playing in the resonant atrium of the Concert Hall. This will be a quartet called DYNOSAUR, consisting of three brass players and Karen Stackpole’s gongs. Expect lots of echoing.