Liner Notes by Duck Baker
I have played free jazz for over forty years and made records for over thirty, so it might seem strange that this is my recording debut in this style. A few bits and pieces have come out here and there; tracks that appeared on two records separated by nearly two decades and a couple of things recorded over the years with Eugene Chadbourne. But although I have always enjoyed working in the free styles when I could and tried to find people willing to produce recordings at various times, it wasn’t until Jerry Roche decided that the music here would fit on his wide-ranging Mighty Quinn label that things finally worked out (and what a kick it is to share a label with Paul Quinichette and Edmund Hall!). I could have put the record out myself, of course, and indeed all the Duck Baker records to come out in the last decade have been self-produced. But that’s just the problem; most of my work is done in venues where I’m less likely to sell a free jazz record than some other kind, and I can’t afford to auto-produce more than a small percentage of my repertoire as it is.
So how does a guitarist whose career – such as it is – has mostly been spent in the folk/acoustic and “fingerstyle” guitar worlds, also function in the world of avant-garde improv? The question may seem logical from the outside (not to make a pun), but in fact the free music world is full of people of all kinds of musical backgrounds, from classical to rock to various international disciplines. That being the case, what could be more natural than to bring a bit of American “roots” (God, how these terms have had almost all meaning wrung out of them!) into play? I know that my own answer as a youngster was just feeling that, if I wanted to overcome the cultural limitations of a middle-class white background I needed to explore every avenue of sound and feeling that I could relate to. It seemed obvious to me that the rock music of my teenaged years wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go but learning to fingerpick (a much more meaningful term than the currently preferred “fingerstyle”) ragtime, blues, old-time music, and swing might. Naturally a love affair with modern jazz that began with my first exposure to Thelonious Monk at age 16 eventually led to trying to adapt the fingerpicking approach to bop, hard bop, etc., but that has proved a long study. On the other hand, a kid with big ears could at least get started with free playing as soon as he or she heard what Sonny Sharrock was doing in the mid-60’s. That’s what got this kid going, along every other post-modern guitarist I know, apart from later players who could have heard Derek Bailey first.
My own experience is that people in this world are less likely to be suspicious of musicians who play other styles than, say blues, folk or country enthusiasts are of musicians who play some jazz. Or, for that matter, than devotees of earlier jazz styles are about modernists. I would also venture that modern jazz fans tend to be snootier about traditional styles than avant-gardists are, but really it shouldn’t be news at this late date to say that the boundary lines that supposedly separate the various styles of American music are utterly arbitrary. The people most likely to recognize this fact have always been the musicians themselves.
Much of the music on this record was intended as a sort of follow-up to the record made for John Zorn’s Avant label, , my first real venture into the world of modern jazz. It was recorded within a year or two of that record’s release in late 1996. The rest of the tracks date from an afternoon session at Henry Kaiser’s house in Oakland in the spring of 2001. Henry was compiling guitar solos for a very cool anthology (, which appeared on Cuneiform Records) so I did some improvising, dusted off a very early effort (“Allah, Perhaps”) and put together “Juxta Pose”, which is the piece Henry selected, over the course of the two takes heard here.
I recorded a much tamer version of “Everything That Rises Must Converge” for in 1979. The title is taken from a story by Flannery O’Connor, but I gather that the phrase originated with another Catholic mystic, Telhard de Chardin. I’ve also borrowed the name of a poem by latter-day Beat poet Jim Gustafson for one of the improvs (“The Idea of San Francisco”). There’s not much left to say about Ornette Coleman or his beautiful tune “Peace,” unless it might be to ask why on earth people don’t play it more often.