CD Review – Spinning Song – Dec 1996
Duck Baker’s ‘Spinning Song’
The New York Times, December 30th 1996
by Ben Ratliff
A finger-style jazz guitarist, Duck Baker took on a daunting task: interpreting the reticent, mysterious work of Herbie Nichols, the jazz pianist who remains keenly loved by a minority. Nichols, who died of leukemia in 1963, is one of jazz’s more famous obscurities, best known by a chapter devoted to him in A. B. Spellman’s book “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” as well as for having written “Lady Sings the Blues”, which became one of Billie Holiday’s signature songs. Many of his melodies were so orchestral, indwelling and embedded in harmony that they weren’t very well suited to arrangements that included horn players, nor were they obvious choices for other musicians to cover.
But Mr. Baker, on “Spinning Song”, digs into all the hidden pockets and beautiful embroidery of Nichols’s music. He plays the delicate pieces gently and fluidly, making the music sound as if it were written for the guitar: he bends strings, slides notes and rings minor flamenco chords. He creates his own solos, but stays true to the spirit of Nichols’s original recordings, where the improvisation adhered closely to the complicated chordal musculature. But he has also drained some of the anxious tension from the music, and created a soothing homage.