Guitarist Mike Baggetta has quietly become one of the must-follow artists on the scene. It seems like every project he becomes involved with has something new and different to offer. His Tin/Bag collaborations with trumpeter Kris Tiner have yielded some fascinating, unconventional conversations, both in guitar-trumpet duo form (like 2011’s Bridges) and also in a quartet with drummer Harris Eisenstadt and clarinetist Brian Walsh (2007’s And Begin Again). There’s also Canto, Baggetta’s solo project of etudes for prepared guitar, and his contribution to Jeremy Udden‘s spectacular folk-jazz recording Plainville.
His Quartet’s 2009 debut Small Spaces was a modern straight-ahead session, full of sharp angles and opaque melodies. The Quartet returned in 2011 with Source Material, which transitioned into a blend of Brian Blade Fellowship nu-jazz and the folk-jazz from the Plainville sessions. There was a dark melancholy juxtaposed with a countryside shade of post-bop. It was also more relaxed and comforting in its way.
These were all projects that displayed Baggetta’s fluidity in disparate scenarios, requiring a creative imagination to rise to a level of artistic craftsmanship. And, now, on his 2014 release Thieves and Secrets, Baggetta brings all of the varied ingredients of past works together, and projects them into an entirely new vision that’s one step ahead of the total sum of its influences. The music of Thieves and Secrets is a freer sort of folk-jazz, one that is as likely to bend the ear with a little twang as it is to slip in some bop chatter, and as comfortable fading out like moonlight as it is swimming in a sea of dissonance.
Songs like “Transmission” and “Nova Scotia” have the presence of storm clouds, sometimes crackling with a lively electricity and other times hitting the ears with a comforting cool sonic mist. The steel strings of guitar share the same space as the low moans and high cries of saxophones. Drums are either a rapid pulse of the sussurance of brushes, and bass its dark shadow or bright halo.
The song “Thieves, Secrets” opens with an Eivind Opsvik bass solo, then George Schuller softly on drums with a nice and easy cadence. Riggy and Baggetta enter on sax and guitar, slipping in verses with care and feeling, like the blues sung out over a nighttime campfire. There’s a lovely melodic phrase Rigby keeping returning to, and even when the quartet develops the song into something much stronger, much brighter, that phrase is what brings them back down to earth for the finale. It’s a pattern that gets repeated throughout the album.
“The Wind” also opens with a simple melody that offers many doors to many paths extending out to potential destinations. And like “Thieves, Secrets,” the song gradually builds up to a Big Sound before returning back to a calmer state for its conclusion. It’s the kind of thing that, on past recordings, might’ve been compared to the Brian Blade Fellowship, but now, the way Baggetta expresses this particular facet, it has its own distinct personality outside the immediate sphere of influence or connection.
The folk-jazz comes through clear on tracks like “Hidden Things” and “Country Wisdom.” On the former, there are no fences up to keep the musicians corralled, and Rigby takes the opportunity to go wandering on sax. On the latter, it’s the closest thing to song form on the album, and the quartet’s casual recitation of melody is made much more than pretty when they stagger it in a way to drive up the anticipation of its resolve.
“World Leaders” serves up some post-bop, with the rhythm section of Opsvik and Schuller laying down the foundation. They develop a snappy chatter, to which Baggetta and Rigby bounce ideas off the surface… a conversation that grows in acerbity via the intensity of the musicians and the utilization of electronic effects.
The album ends with a rendition of “Bridges,” a Baggetta composition performed in a duo set with trumpeter Kris Tiner. It goes a long way to showing the writing talents of Baggetta that this song has so much room for expansion that upping the personnel and instrumentation doesn’t ever risk the song becoming unwieldy or overcrowded. There’s a bit of languid melody, there’s some wild expressiveness, there’s a country road peacefulness and a Big Sound uproar, and it’s all of the ingredients that go into this album and it’s all encapsulated by one song.
A remarkably interesting album from an artist who has had, thus far, a remarkably interesting career.
Your album personnel: Mike Baggetta (electric & acoustic guitars, electronics), Jason Rigby (tenor & soprano saxophones), Eivind Opsvik (upright bass), and George Schuller (drums, cymbals, percussion).
Released on Fresh Sound New Talent.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.