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Reviews: Baker: Singer of Songs - Manuel Fischer-Dieskau

Reviews: 1

Review by Lute June 7, 2014 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
David Baker. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Baker_(composer)

Well, that name certainly brings back some happy memories of southern Indiana. I had the privilege of seeing him perform at a small club... "Bear's Place" just off campus in Bloomington during my college days...

http://www.magbloom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Bloom_20_Jazz.pdf#search='Bloomington+Indiana+restaurant+bar+concert+Bear%27s+place'

Yes, that's him in the photo putting down some hot jazz grooves on a cello. He started out as a jazz trombonist in the Bebop era and had a successful career until... it was ended all to soon by an injury to his jaw. Fortunately for us, he then took up the cello as his outlet for artistic expression. And he's been jamming ever since.

The music on this disk is a synthesis of jazz, ethnic, and classical music, called Third Stream. The first work, Singers of Songs / Weavers of Dreams, is for cello and Percussion. On the whole it's an abstract work punctuated by jazzy rhythms. The percussion is used to nice atmospheric effect. The piece consists of five movements, each celebrating a famous jazz musician... in order: Miles, Sonny Rollins, Paul Robeson, Duke, and Dizzy.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was commissioned by his friend and colleague at Indiana University... the late Janos Starker. It is a more intense, classical oriented work that put Starker's technical skills to good use. The slow middle movement has a particular beauty and grace that is quite attractive. In the CD booklet Baker tells of an amusing story about several critiques by Starker during its creation. Pushing Baker to develop the work more and more, Starker said, "David something's missing." And later, "but you forgot the top... The cello needs to be played everywhere." After a third revision which made even further technical demands, Starker finally admitted "I guess I should have known when to leave it alone." The work was premiered in 1977 at Carnegie Hall by Starker and pianist Alain Planès, and received a standing ovation.

The Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio from 1994 is a more easygoing jazz composition. It allows the lyrical character of the cello to come out in a free 'n' easy manner. The opening movement Swagger is a sophisticated little jazz piece. It's followed by the dreamy and lyrical Meditation. The cheerful third movement entitled Slow Blues is a standard jazz/blues number and again shows the potential of the cello for jazz. The fourth movement, Calypso, provides a swinging finale and shows the variety of musical styles that David Baker has availed himself so skillfully to. He described his style as "Eclectic, but essentially romantic..."

This recording has special significance for cellist Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, who studied under Janos Starker at IU. While making this recording, he and the world learned of the sad news of Janos Starker's passing. Manuel gives a masterful and moving performance of these works. His performances of the Sonata for Cello and Piano, and Singer of Songs are particularly impressive. I would have liked a little more wild abandonment, for example.. in some places of The Suite for Cello and Jazz Trio. (I guess I am fondly remembering how David Baker nearly overheated his cello during his live performances.) But, this is a small criticism. Manuel comes from a musical family. His father was the famous baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. For the recording, Manuel has the excellent support & collaboration of percussionist Guy Frisch, pianist Connie Shih (who studied with Gyorgy Sebok at IU) , and in the Jazz Trio: pianist Monika Herzig (who also has close ties with Baker), bassist Pavel Klimashevsky, and on drums Dieter Schumacher.

MDG's recording is very good with a warm, natural image. There is plenty of detail on the instruments while still providing a nice spacial quality. Rear channels mostly provide ambience. However; with its use of various percussion instruments, I feel Singer of Songs / Weaver of Dreams would have been even more evocative with a more aggressive use of the rear speakers.

As Baker himself says, the musical style is a little eclectic. So, it might not be to everyone's taste. But, I have been enjoying his funky rhythms all over again. I just wish they would have put one or two more of Baker's works on this wonderful SACD. Playing time is 55:50.

Warmly recommended!

A link to Indiana University's website: http://viewpoints.iu.edu/art-at-iu/2014/04/25/iu-jazz-legend-david-baker-honored-in-tribute-album/

And a little about Monika Herzig and Baker: http://www.thewimn.com/front-center-dr-monika-herzig-jazz-pianist-author-educator-composer/

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