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mwalker on 07/23/2010 at 09:00AM

Nat Baldwin: Most Valuable Player

Dipping a few months back into our archive, I’m thrilled to be able to share the complete recording of the wonderful Nat Baldwin's solo set from May 22nd set at ISSUE (a bill he shared with the also-great Woody Sullender). Beyond being one my favorite songwriters to come around in the last decade (ignoring the somewhat strange arbitrariness of cataloguing albums based on calendar years, his Most Valuable Player album would have almost certainly taken the spot as my favorite album of 08, if I made such lists…which I do), Baldwin also wields his contrabass like an inextricable extension of his own body. At times, the connection between self and instrument feels so intimate and natural that concepts like ‘virtuoso’ feel irrelevant and platitudinous – like saying someone has a virtuosic ability to see with their eyes or walk down the street. As a result, evocations of Arthur Russell are rather difficult to avoid – indeed, Baldwin closed the set with a gorgeous take on Russell’s classic “A Little Lost” – but it’s more of a kindred spirit-type connection; Baldwin has certainly developed a wholly unique voice of his own.

Also like Russell, Baldwin manages to instill his haunting and effortlessly approachable tunes with an inseparable and organic layer of continuous experimentation that, rather than call attention to itself, pushes and propels the songs forward with a subtle but unmistakable tension – injecting the compositions with an alluring honesty and grounded vulnerability. The brief but viscerally emotional sections of free improvisation that commence and bifurcate the set (obligatory mention of his tenure as a pupil of Anthony Braxton) coalesce seamlessly into his structured songs, which in turn flow, one into the next, over a gentle cascade of perpetual motion eighth notes. Conventional demarcations of regular time are not so much evaded as made unnoticeable, and the elastic vocal melodies stream over the tops of the imperceptible bar-lines with an elegant freedom of movement. Time maintains a steady and immediate presence in the music yet the annoying but often difficult-to-avoid human tendency to insert artificial divisions remains refreshingly absent. Lovely stuff, for sure.

If you're looking for him around town, check his August 21 show at the Silent Barn with Dead Western, Skeletons, Little Women, and Nine 11 Thesaurus.

 

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