BWW Review: MATT BAKER: A RHAPSODY OF GERSHWIN at Birdland Puts a Modern Spin on Classics
It was a treat to see Matt Baker's rousing, modernistic tribute to Gershwin at Birdland on Tuesday October 22. Gershwin tunes inspired an evening of jazz, the music taking familiar tunes like "Rhapsody in Blue" to haunting new places. Baker and his sextet filled Birdland's sweeping underground space with music.
Thanks to a scheduling mistake (one of his musicians was running late from a Colbert show taping), Baker started the evening with a quiet solo performance of "Someone to Watch Over Me," proving that he could command Birdland's large hall all on his own. However, the impromptu solo made the talent and skill of Baker's band even more apparent. His sextet harmonized beautifully, working as one to distort the songs almost past the point of recognition. It took skill to update the almost century-old songs to a modern place.
The conceit of the show came from Gershwin's famous concerto, "Rhapsody in Blue". Baker noted that the piece had sections so defined and structured that they sounded like they could be individual songs. He wove selections from "Rhapsody in Blue" into medleys of other classic Gershwin songs, including an inventive mashup of "I Got Rhythm" and "Fascinating Rhythm." Baker quipped that just about every jazz musician had a rendition of "I Got Rhythm," but "I promise, you've never heard [it] like this before."
And he was right - I had never heard it performed that way before. He built unique interpretations of classics (I'd say 'tired old standbys', but who could ever get tired of Gershwin?). The entire evening, the jazz was wonderfully abstract, with everyone harmonizing into a perfect melded whole. Guest singer Nicole Zuraitis's sultry vocals blended beautifully with the music. At times, she anchored the songs with lyrics, highlighting the melody, and at others she just vocalized. Other standouts were Curtis Nowosad on the drums and Endea Owens on double bass, who played with an infectious joy.
Matt Baker can be followed on Instagram @mattbakerjazz and on Twitter @MattBakerJazz
Matt Baker can be checked out by visiting the Matt Baker Website