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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Alex Baker Quartet @ The Jazz Café. September 27

Alex Baker (tenor saxophone), Dean Stockdale (keyboards), Amy Baker (electric bass) & Stephen Fletcher (drums)
(Review by Russell/photos courtesy of Mike Tilley).
Saturday night in the Jazz Café and a good crowd (some new faces) turned out to hear Alex Baker. The self effacing tenor man emerged from the ranks of the Durham County Youth Big Band, relocated to Sheffield and makes oh-so-rare appearances as a member of the Durham County’s alumni band.
Baker’s quartet hails from the land of the Prince Bishops (sister Amy from the same household!) and this Jazz Café engagement marked the band’s Tyneside debut. Pianist Dean Stockdale is a familiar face on the Newcastle scene and it came as something of a surprise that he chose to play his keyboard rather than make use if the Caff’s upright. No matter, his playing reaffirmed his undoubted talents, sight-reading some of the material at a moment’s notice (it – A Moments Notice –  was heard later in the evening). Baker possesses a beautiful, warm sound founded on secure technique. Playing acoustically, eschewing announcements (the betting is a painfully shy man hides behind his Selmer Mark VI), Baker’s tenor did the talking. Coltrane featured, as did a sprinkling of standards. Giant Steps, with its Baker-Fletcher tenor-drums intro, flew high, the fabulous Amy Baker and Stockdale on the runway, ready to join them, the mastery of it being Baker’s unhurried phrasing at full throttle. Solar and a subtle reading of Body and Soul (Stockdale’s playful incorporation of Singing in the Rain and Fletcher’s brushes) would have made a Queen of Jazz purr with pleasure.
Second set Baker emerged, reluctantly, from behind the security of his tenor to speak briefly, at one point telling of a recent trip to Preservation Hall, New Orleans. He played St James’ Infirmary – fabulously funereal. Hearing You Don’t Know What Love Is wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-sixties Ronnie Scott’s a la Zoot and co. Seven Steps to Heaven sizzled, fine playing all round and the set closer, the little-heard On a Misty Night brought deserved applause, so much so Baker won an encore and played a killing Mr PC. The next time Alex Baker plays the Jazz Café get there early to claim a front row seat.                     
Russell.

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