Bryan Baker – This Morning Day

Bryan Baker - This Morning Day

Prodigy. Virtuoso. Wunderkind. All would be apt labels for 24 year old guitarist Bryan Baker, who picked up a six-string for the first time before he was old enough to enter grade school. In the dozen years that followed, he would land coveted spots at the Los Angeles Music Academy (both as a student and teacher), and would gain passage – with a full tuition scholarship, no less – into the prestigious Berklee College of Music by the age of 16. Nearly one decade and a critically acclaimed debut album later, Baker has taken all of the laudatory comparisons to Pat Metheny and the time logged on tours with Steps Ahead and channeled them into an unsuspecting sophomore LP that merges industrial-sized percussion with the guitarist’s trademark fretboard heroics.

If Baker’s Aphotic was a torch-bearing case for jazz’s relevance in the 21st century, then his follow up is likely to bolster that claim even further. The fluid precision of Baker’s technique and improvised solos are as present here as they would be on any “pure” jazz release, but by removing the traditional combo setup this time around – forget about any upright bass, drum kit, or piano – and replacing it with a smattering of electronic instruments and digital effects, you quickly realize that this is one of the only instances on record today where it seems entirely possible for industrial metal, jazz fusion, and ambient electronica to all peacefully coexist. This Morning Day sounds very much like the work of an extraordinarily avant-garde supergroup then, as if Richard James, Trent Reznor, and Bill Frisell all wound up in the same recording studio together. Cool though that prospect may sound, it’s even better when you realize that most of what’s to be digested on TMD is the work of one man who’s daring mashups are just as entertaining as his fretwork on the electric guitar.

Opening cut “Teeth” has all of the industrial clang and clatter of a Downward Spiral-era b-side, building quickly after an introduction of lo-fi hissing noises and fragmented guitar chords. A seething electronic groove with woofer-shaking bass and drums crashes in, and it’s not until Baker’s quirky yet highly memorable melody shows up that you remember that this is in fact a guitar player’s record. Punctuated by unorthodox interval leaps and diminished harmonies, the track would work well as soundtrack material for a spy or cop flick. Baker’s beguiling performance only gets better as the tune progresses, interspersing a mellow café-style groove with smoldering solo passages. Like the aforementioned Bill Frisell, Baker has the gift or manipulating his instrument’s tone to sound like that of a woodwind; when the tenor sax shows up in the song’s final minute, it’s hard to discern when the abrasive vibrations were transferred from strings to wood. “Patient Roark” and “You Should See Your Lips Move” both take similar trajectories, though the latter stands out for its caustic – even abrasive – tone. Baker rises to the occasion, seizing the opportunity to lay down some of the album’s most astounding solos.

He may posses the same mastery of his instrument as Pat Metheny, but whereas Metheny’s less daring compositions sometimes came off like precious examples of New Age mood music, Baker’s unusual arrangements ensure that things always stay just a little edgy. Though “The Boy Soldier, The Lynx” is more atmospheric than other tracks on The Morning Day, its frosty electronic textures and erratic 5/4 drum beat keep the intensity high. “Solace Like Statuary” manages the difficult feat of being both the most ambient and overtly jazzy track on the record, with Baker employing some reverb and delay that give his leads more freedom to roam. When the downtempo electronica groove finally arrives and the tenor saxophone begins doubling the melismatic riffs of the guitar, things practically turn celestial.

“Limberlost” and “((4157))” sound like they could’ve been penned by Thom Yorke or Sigur Rós, featuring glitchy electronic effects and, in the case of the former, an unhurried ascent to the climax. It’s in these instances where you can gain a deeper appreciation for Baker’s talents of restraint; this album may be a showcase of his six-string prowess, but he also knows that even the biggest guitar fanatics need a little breathing room.

Don’t be fooled by the jazz tag that’s often thrown at Bryan Baker’s music. This is jazz for those who love popular music. If Miles Davis or Charlie Parker never quite did it for you, This Morning Day likely will. If you listen to any music with keyboards, drum machines, or synthesizers, it’s a guarantee.