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Baker, Duck: Contra Costa Dance (Confront)

In 1980 Duck Baker's first label deal had expired and the label changed direction, as did Baker himself from arranging traditional tunes into compositions for improvisation; still, these well-recorded demos from 1982 held an appeal through song selection and a uniquely edgy yet lyrical approach to his playing, now finally released to the public 40 years later.

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product information:

Label: Confront
Catalog ID: core 26
Squidco Product Code: 32560

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2022
Country: UK
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded in Oakland, California, on June 9th, July 18th, and August 11th, 1982, by Dix Bruce.


Duck Baker-acoustic guitar

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Artist Biographies:

"Duck Baker is one of the most highly regarded fingerstyle guitarists of his generation. He is unique among jazz guitarists in that his repertoire spans the entire history of the music from ragtime through swing to modern masters like Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols to free improvisation. Baker's devotion to American music also encompasses more traditional forms like blues, gospel, and Appalachian music and its Scots-Irish ancestry. This catholicism has been likened to Europeans who perform the classical repertoire from renaissance through to modern music.

Duck was born Richard R. Baker IV in 1949 and grew up in Richmond, Virginia. He passed his teenage years playing in rock and blues bands before becoming interested in acoustic blues. Local ragtime pianist Buck Evans was a major influence on Baker's evolution. By the time he moved to San Francisco in the early seventies, he was performing the wide range of material heard on his first record for the Kicking Mule label, "There's Something for Everyone in America". In addition to developing his solo style, Baker joined a bluegrass band and immersed himself in the local swing jazz scene, forming a duo with guitarist Thom Keats and performing with such Bay Area luminaries as Burt Bales and Robin Hodes. Baker remains active in this music, leading a trio with guitarist Bob Wilson and fiddler Tony Marcus.

In the late seventies, Baker recorded four more records for Kicking Mule, including two devoted to jazz and the first solo guitar record of Irish and Scottish music. He also began touring as a soloist, traveling throughout North America, Western Europe, and Australia. He eventually moved to Europe where he was based for nine years before returning to San Francisco in 1987. It was also in the late seventies that Baker became associated with the free music scene, performing with musicians like Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn in New York and Bruce Ackley and Henry Kaiser in San Francisco. His associations in the 90's included the highly regarded Irish fiddler, Kieran Fahy, and the great traditional singer, Molly Andrews. As of 2002 he is involved in several other duos: with trombone master Roswell Rudd, bassist Mark Dresser, and guitarists Jamie Findlay, Woody Mann and Ken Emerson. He also leads a trio which includes violinist Carla Kihlstedt and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.

Baker's solo recordings since 1980 have for the most part focused on his own compositions, which reflect the influence of the great jazz pianist/composers like Monk, Nichols, Randy Weston, etc. His pieces have been recorded by various other guitarists, as well as Irish and American traditionalists and modern jazzmen.His most ambitious record, "Spinning Song", which is devoted to the music of Herbie Nichols, got rave reviews in Jazz Times, Cadence, Coda, and the New York Times, and helped establish Baker as an important voice in the world of fingerstyle jazz guitar. Various critics named "Spinning Song" among the best jazz records of 1997 in Cadence and Coda magazines, and it placed high on the Cadence reader's poll of that year. Acoustic Guitar magazine dubbed it "one of the best guitar records ever recorded - by anybody." "

-Duck Baker Website (

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track listing:

1. Putney Bridge 03:59

2. Keep It Under Your Heart 03:47

3. Contra Costa Dance 03:24

4. First Frost 03:53

5. Highland Spring 02:54

6. The Clear Blue Sky 03:42

7. Dance Me Outside 03:07

8. Deidre 02:55

9. Waltz With Mary's Smile 04:34

10. Not the First Time 04:17

11. Holding Pattern 03:47

12. The Flowers of Belfast 05:12
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"My first record deal was with Kicking Mule, a specialised acoustic guitar label that released five Duck Baker LPs between 1976 and 1980. But eventually the label changed direction and I did no recording for them after I finished The Kid On The Mountain in 1980. By that time, my primary focus had shifted from arranging traditional tunes to writing original pieces like those included on The Art Of Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar (1979). By mid-1982 I was not only thinking in terms of finding another label but dealing with a painful relationship breakup and relocating from London, where I had been based for several years. I spent that summer in Berkeley trying unsuccessfully to make sense of things before returning to Europe in the fall, and since my friend Dix Bruce knew that I was looking for a label, he helped me make make demo recordings of the original tunes I wanted to record. I sent a selection around to a a few labels, but to no avail; most of the new acoustic guitar records being made at that point featured New Age music, and I just didn't fit the program. I recall thinking that the repeated phrases in pieces like "Putney Bridge" and the title track might appeal to these people, but maybe time signatures like 5/4 and 5/8 put them off. Or maybe it was the jazz influence, though "Putney Bridge" was also a clear nod to folk guitarist Bert Jansch, who lived just down the road form me in Fulham but often crossed the bridge to get to his preferred pubs in those days.

It wasn't until the 1990s that the German label Acoustic Music released four CDs mainly devoted to my own compositions, and most of the pieces on the present collection were included. Meanwhile the 1982 demo recordings had been forgotten, and were sitting in a box in Dix Bruce's garage until he started going through things in early 2021. When I heard the recordings again, I liked the edgy quality in the playing and thought that many of these demo recordings were stronger than the later studio versions. There are also three tunes that I never did re-record: the ragtime knuckle-buster "Highland Springs", the quasi-modal "Dance Me Outside", and the impressionistic "Deirdre", named for the girl of Irish legend who was just too pretty for her own good. What later studio recordings would have, of course, was better sound quality, and the fidelity of these demos was further compromised by sitting in storage for so long.

Despite the imperfect audio, I felt that the music I was trying so hard to get out there in 1982 was still worth sharing, and when Mark Wastell at Confront heard the recordings, he agreed. So in the end, I did manage to find a label for the record I wanted to make after The Kid On The Mountain. It took 40 years, but here it is."-Duck Baker, Reading, Berks, March, 2022

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