Jalen Baker | Be Still Review


Jalen Baker | Be Still Review

The Rhythms of Academia – Jalen Baker’s Be Still

by Darnell Jackson

Jalen-Baker-5-Finger-Review-cdWith Be Still, Jalen Baker plays the consummate technician; his vibraphone notes are intricately woven yet lacking the tales that touch our hearts. In his sophomore offering, Baker delivers a collection of jazz compositions and arrangements awash in technical proficiency, presenting an exuberant flurry of rhythms and a studied sense of emotion. According to Baker, the theme of the album aims to transform personal turmoil and pandemic-induced uncertainty into an audacious celebration of life and music—an aspiration that begs for a deeper narrative touch to fully realize its emotional potential.

We are greeted by a cascade of modern jazz voicings in “Twas,” when Baker enters, he establishes right from the start he is an energetic vibraphonist. As his mallets are dancing upon the vibraphone in a mesmerizing flurry of notes, a lot of notes, one starts to become desensitized to his brilliance by the end of his solo. It is here, amidst the synergistic rhythms of funk, fusion, and modern jazz, that the listener begins their journey, lifted along by Baker’s celebration of technical patterns that are endless and, at times, expressive.

Even in the groove-laden title track, “Be Still,” Baker performs endless layers of activity; his partner in crime, pianist Paul Cornish, also continues the energetic focus on technique and expression through academic brilliance. Both players lock in with Gabe Godoy on bass and Gavin Moolchan on drums to form a symbiotic dance of melding and diverging in an intense shared musical narrative. Though the solos are incredibly dense in the number of notes, the players do manage to communicate, which is impressive in and of itself.

Joe Henderson’s composition, “Jinrikisha,” is built on a deep, funky groove that feels good for Baker’s exemplaryJalen-Baker-2 arrangement. The ensemble converses fluently in the modern jazz rhythms, and one has to acknowledge the contribution of Godoy’s and Moolchan’s ability to create a groove. Baker takes us on another activity-driven ride with his mallets, their path effortlessly flowing through the harmonic progression and funky groove.

Be Still continues to deliver tracks that are a relentless pathway to technical expression, which, in all honesty, overshadow a storytelling narrative. “Herzog” is another example of Baker’s technical skills, but the emotional connection is lost amidst the high-energy execution. Similarly, we find the same pattern in “There’s Beauty In Fear,” while rhythmically innovative, the focus on relentless technique covers the emotional impact, except that of being overwhelmed.

Let me be clear: Baker is unquestionably talented—a fact that might be at the root of my critique. His virtuosity is so evident that it often overshadows the narrative nuances in his solo performances. Be Still is a strong foundation upon which this young vibraphonist can continue building his discography. As he gains more life experience beyond the walls of academia, his narrative approach is likely to catch up with his extraordinary technique. Once that happens, Baker is poised to become a significant force in the landscape of modern jazz.

Jalen-Baker-1In Be Still, Baker challenges listeners with his technical agility and frenetic rhythms, yet these elements often need a narrative breathing space. The eight songs showcase the ensemble’s methodical approach to exploring relentless intensity but could be enriched by diving deeper into the emotional possibilities of the music. While there are moments in life where raw technical energy is precisely what’s needed, Be Still is tailor-made to serve that purpose. For a well-rounded playlist, consider pairing a track from this album with another song that brings a more mature, storytelling approach.

Release Date: February 28, 2020 Label: Mack Avenue Records


Be Still

Buy on Amazon

Label: Cellar Live

Release Date: July 7, 2023

About the author

Darnell Jackson

Be the first to comment on "Jalen Baker | Be Still Review"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.