Jim Baker can be heard pretty much every week in town--if not at the Sunday-evening jam session at the Velvet Lounge, then with Chicago bands including his own trio, groups led by saxophonists David Boykin and Guillermo Gregorio, and Ken Vandermark's Steam and Territory Band. Even so Baker attracts less attention than he merits. He's an obsessively driving improvising pianist, a disarmingly subtle interpreter of jazz evergreens, and one of the quirkier and more entertaining analog-synth revivalists. Playing his patchboard ARP 2600, he's as attentive to nuance when he's getting fried-wire abstract or sea-mammal gurgly as when getting surprisingly melodious with a timbre like musical saw crossed with calliope. Percussionist Damon Short, with whom Baker has an ongoing occasional duo, is also somewhat overlooked for as much as he's out there. As leader of his quintet, at the Jazz Festival in September, he struck a deft balance between solo fire and ensemble poise, and as a drummer he's likewise inclined to maintain order in the heat of the moment. He and Baker have curious chemistry on their new and improvised Incidental Dialects: Live at the Lunar Cabaret (Depth Perception), drawn from several gigs played between 1995 and '97. Sometimes they phrase together and anticipate each other's moves, as frequently paired improvisers often do. But they also have a way of keeping each other off balance, not least when Short plays vibes at a zillion notes a minute, as if making up for lost time. (Going easy on the sustain pedal, he gets a crisper, clankier sound than most vibists, and attacks the metal bars with the same attention to dynamics that he brings to the traps.) It's not like either needs to search for the other guy, who's wandered off on his own, or forgets to listen. More like they circle each other, reluctant to alight, because then the game would be over. Wednesday, December 5, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.