Jalen Baker, Be Still Review
Be Still: Jalen Baker’s Testament to Perseverance in the Face of Ceaseless Activity
by Icrom Bigrad
As a lifelong devotee of the ceaseless rhythmic pulses of life and the in-the-moment channeling of those pulses we call jazz, I often find myself looking for more than just melodies and rhythms within the music. We music lovers seek stories, emotions, and above all, truths. These truths can be found between every note and beat, the tales of the human condition, abstract yet vividly real. In the fiery vibrancy of Jalen Baker’s Be Still, I found truths encapsulated within the album’s relentless energy and undying spirit.
In this intricate dance of jazz, we are guided by a quartet that captures the paradoxical essence of life’s ceaseless rhythms in their music. Leading the tetrad of musicians is Jalen Baker, on the vibraphone, along with his gifted ensemble, Paul Cornish on the piano, Gabe Godoy on bass, and Gavin Moolchan on drums. This charismatic foursome transcribes the relentless oscillations of life into an unremitting sauce of jazz shapes and rhythms.
From the get-go, Be Still sends an unmistakable message – there is no room for stillness in life’s journey. This is made abundantly clear in the opening track, “Twas,” an unyielding celebration of life’s complex rhythms. Through this vibrant start, Baker compels us to embark on a journey that mirrors life’s tumultuous paths. The high-energy, joyous celebration of modern jazz resonates with the constant ebbs and flows we face daily, and the musical intensity serves as a metaphor for our struggle to keep going.
Take “Be Still,” the title track, for example. The composition is an onslaught of notes with a rhythmic vortex that leaves no room for pause. Baker and Cornish weave together their musical ideas, mimicking the endless dance of life. Like us, they move forward relentlessly, tackling each new measure with vigor and technique, much as we handle life’s challenges with resilience and determination.
There’s a stark beauty in this relentlessness, represented in the activity of the original Baker composition “There’s Beauty In Fear.” With a unique rhythmic undercurrent that defies predictability, Baker pushes the boundaries of modern jazz, creating an aural flavor that captures our unceasing fight against life’s fears.
Baker’s metaphorical exploration of the human spirit reaches a significant point in “Herzog.” The swing-based melody hits high notes of much youthful energy, reflecting our incessant pursuit of happiness amidst trials and tribulations. The track’s intense journey, coupled with very little breathing room, is a metaphor for the power of the unyielding spirit, pushing us forward through the hardships.
Even in “Lexi’s Lullaby,” a softer, more contemplative tune, the ensemble maintains an active dynamic, mirroring our constant pursuit of peace amidst the chaos. There’s a touching juxtaposition here – a lullaby that isn’t meant to lull but to gently remind us that even moments of tranquility are threaded with subtle undercurrents of activity and motion.
Baker’s interpretation of the timeless jazz standard “Body and Soul” is a poignant closing piece. The soulful solo by bassist Godoy is a moment of much-desired melodic and rhythmic succinctness from the activity that embodies the album’s relentless spirit, marking a fitting end to a journey that never truly ends, much like our own experiences.
The album’s unyielding energy might overwhelm the unprepared palate, akin to the numbing spiciness or ‘Mala’ of a Szechuan-infused lasagna, startling unsuspecting taste buds with its unconventional pairing. However, it’s within this intricate labyrinth of sound, akin to the complex layers of this unexpectedly paired spicy dish, that Baker’s creation mirrors life’s unending rhythm. This album isn’t merely a nonstop celebration of the jazz virtuoso—it’s an ode to our shared journey, an affirmation of the beauty inherent in relentless perseverance. In a world constantly moving and pushing us, there is still that little whispering in the few small spaces of ‘be still.’ Baker’s music propels us forward, urging us to persist, to taste the rhythms of life, and, through its numbing spiciness of activity, find the stillness. That, my jazz aficionados, is my dish on the essence of Be Still.