Andrea Baker

Table for One

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California singer Andrea Baker has a voice that reveals several facets. She's flexible in her range, going from cutesy little girl coy to Eartha Kitt-like self-effaced slurring at the end of phrases, and possessing a more attractive lower end with occasional Louis Armstrong affectations. She attempts to scat frequently to varying degrees of effect. The result is that her singing, depending on what you like, can be impressively swinging or extremely irritating, though she does shine when scatting like mad during "Avalon." On these nine standards, the real stars are the great backup musicians, slotted in either big band or small group settings. The top-notch quintet is drummer Frank Capp, pianist Gerald Wiggins, the late bassist Andy Simpkins, saxophonist Steve Wilkerson, and guitarist Barry Zweig. The big band, led by arranger/conductor Sandy Megas, features the aforementioned minus Wiggins and Capp, plus drummer James Gadson and pianist Ed Czack, saxophonists Terry Harrington, Jim Quam, Ray Reed, and Jennifer Hall, trombonist Greg Solomon, and trumpeter Gary Halopoff. They both are quite able ensembles, especially on the hip chart for "Black Coffee" with lots of twists and turns, and the beautiful intro and outro for "Close Enough for Love." It's good to hear Zweig on a recording, he's far too underdocumented, while Harrington and Wilkerson emerge as top-drawer soloists, especially Wilkerson's baritone sax solo on "It Don't Mean a Thing." Zweig, Wilkerson, Wiggins, and Simpkins play terrific solos on the uptempo "If I Were a Bell"; they're the best musical moments. Unfortunately for Baker, she's dwarfed in the company of her compatriots. Fair singer, superior band, thus the split assessment.

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