American Fingerstyle Guitarist

Duck Baker’s “Spinning Song” now available on LP

Triple Point Records has reissued Spinning Song: Duck Baker Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols to coincide with Nichols’ 100th birthday on January 3, 2019. The new release is a high-end audiophile LP from the same label which released Duck Baker Plays Monk in late 2016 to commemorate the centennial of another great jazz pianist/composer, Thelonious Monk. The new LP has been remastered for the LP release, which has been pressed on red, translucent vinyl, and is available here:  The CD is still in print and available as well, here:

Spinning Song was one of several records devoted to the music of Herbie Nichols that appeared independently in the mid-1990s. Duck Baker had made his reputation over the previous two decades working mostly in folk, ragtime, and swing, but this was his first real entry into the world of modern jazz guitar, and his background gave him a unique approach to the music. The jazz press gave Spinning Song a warm reception, and Acoustic Guitar magazine proclaimed it “one of the best guitar records ever recorded – by anybody.”  Here are a few of the reviews garnered by Spinning Song when it first appeared:

“Ace finger-picking guitarist Duck Baker has released one of the more exciting recent albums on the guitar scene, and its appeal goes beyond guitaristic aplomb. To name a couple of virtues: here is yet more persuasive evidence that the late, undersung jazz pianist Herbie Nichols, whose music is lovingly visited here, remains a jazz innovator deserving much broader attention; secondly, Baker’s spunky fingerings and syncopated charms make a good case for the application of finger-picking versions of jazz material. At the suggestion-and with the label advocacy-of fellow Herbie Nichols champion John Zorn, Baker undertook the project of arranging songs by Nichols, who left a treasure trove of delightful oddities. The seductive angularity of Nichols’ music, in tunes like ‘The Third World,’ ‘Lady Sings the Blues,’ and ‘2300 Skidoo,’ is reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s music, but with its own weird flair. As with Monk, a deceptive complexity is at work here, between artful ‘wrong’ turns, harmonically, and riffs that work their way into your head, before your cognitive mind can identify them as illogical. Illogic rarely sounded so good, a subtext that Baker seems to understand fully.” 
– Josef Woodard, Jazz Times

“This CD consists entirely of solo fingerstyle guitar renditions of pieces by the legendary Blue Note pianist/composer Herbie Nichols, and as with Nichols’ music — which was nearly always performed in a standard piano/bass/drums trio format — there is a lot more going on here than the somewhat routine surface suggests. Nichols’ compositions have their own sort of ambiguous, hard-to-pin-down harmonic aroma, filled with subtle harmonic twists and soft dissonances, but Baker somehow captures it in these versions even when he detours from the originals. He swings naturally and effortlessly when he wants, but he also takes things outside and gets abstract in his own quiet way, most notably on the remarkable version of ‘Nick at T’s.’ Folks who are new to Nichols’ music would probably find it helpful to know the originals, since Baker rearranges several of them, tosses in quotes from other tunes, and generally does more improvising than the pianist was prone to doing. In any case, this album is a fine piece of work, one with the same type of subtlety and deceptive-sounding ease for which Nichols was/is known.”
– William York, AllMusic Review

“When the pianist and composer Herbie Nichols died in 1963, his work was little known outside of a small circle of colleagues and admirers. A contemporary and associate of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, Nichols made joyous music by fusing complex rhythms and harmonies. With the recent release of his complete Blue Note recordings, however, Nichols’s work has begun to reach the wider audience it has always deserved. This disc stands out among CD tributes for the way in which Duck Baker has fused Nichols’s compositions with his extraordinary finger-style guitar work. Baker has entered deep into the spirit of the music and found ways to match Nichols’s polyrhythmic and contrapuntal keyboard approach on his own instrument. The results are musically as well as technically brilliant, rich in the blues and Caribbean rhythms that fueled Nichols’s musical imagination. These tunes deserve to be jazz standards, and Baker demonstrates why.” 
Stuart Broomer, Canadian musician and jazz writer, for Amazon

“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.”
– Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

“Nowadays a lot of people are giving Herbie’s music the attention it deserves, but Duck Baker is the only one who makes me feel Herbie in the room.”
-Roswell Rudd, trombonist/composer/musical adventurer, who studied and performed Nichols’ music with the composer in the 1960s