Chasing Music: Bob Baldwin at the Iridium

You know it’s a good year for music when you’re getting into a show within the first week of it. At least I’d like to think so.

Now, if you’ve ever been to a Bob Baldwin show, you know for a fact that he never works alone. Whether it’s a great band backing him, or in special guests, his assortment of stagemates is one of the things that doesn’t fail to surprise the audience. Would you think, per se, that a flute would suddenly begin to sound like a staple instrument in jazz every bit as much as, say, a keyboard? Not readily. But with Bob Baldwin, you start thinking twice about arrangements. His piano in and of itself is electrifying, but when you throw in a little seasoning, suddenly an already good dish becomes that much better.

This is easily why I enjoy Baldwin’s material, ever since Brazil Chill surfaced on Pandora Radio. What struck me then was the arrangement job; it shines through even in a CD mix. In live show, it certainly translates as well.

Now, while this was a tribute to Michael Jackson in concept, it evolved into and became a showcase of Bob’s talent as an arranger. He started off with something completely unrelated to the show’s theme, and once he went over to Never Can Say Goodbye, I got full confirmation of why I like his arrangements: brilliant simplicity. This was also when I noticed that this is one of the rare guitarless stage arrangements, and I found that it was still as well balanced as any show where a guitarist was standard. The Jackson 5 staple song suddenly took on a very interesting tone through the jazz lens indeed.

Going back to the fact that Bob never works alone, last night’s special guests included Ragan Whiteside on flute, and Porter Carroll on vocals. Now, while I’m familiar with Ms. Whiteside, this was the first time I saw Porter Carroll live and I will mince no words in saying that I was very surprised at the strength of his voice. The more I think back to the show, the more I think that he hardly needed that mic, and he definitely showed himself on “She” (originally sung by Will Downing) and “I Can’t Help It” (MJ). I was left quite impressed by the overall feel of his voice, and I do have to hand it to Bob for the overall effect.

Easily, this is a great precursor to a stellar jazz season.