Misc. Items, trumpeter Jake Baldwin’s second record as a leader, will be released March 17th, 2023 on Shifting Paradigm. It features the talents of notable Twin Cities musicians Adam Harder Nussbaum on drums, Toivo Hannigan on guitar and Cody McKinney on electric bass, with seven compositions by Baldwin and three from Hannigan. Misc. Items showcases Baldwin’s ability to mesh the simple and melodic with the exploratory and textural.
Baldwin’s 2021 debut album as leader, Where You’re Planted, was described by Midwest Record as “Tasty modern stuff that easily sets your ears on fire.” He has followed up with an album that is familiar to his debut in some ways but also goes in some entirely new directions. The link between the two albums is Nussbaum’s drumming and Baldwin’s use of singable melodies and uncomplicated harmony.
Misc. Items explores the juxtaposition of beauty and tension. Hannigan’s soundscapes, Baldwin’s flowing lyricism, McKinney’s minimalist yet driving bass lines and Harder Nussbaum’s steadfast drumming give the listener the sense of being somewhere wide open with a storm brewing in the distance. “The choice to use electric guitar and electric bass instead of upright bass and piano was very deliberate and it allowed me to have the openness and spatial textures that I was hearing for these specific compositions,” says Baldwin. Unlike Where You’re Planted, which featured tunes written over a period of 10 years, all of these compositions were written in 2022. Misc. Items is ultimately about the changes a person goes through over the course of a year.
The album opens with Harder Nussbaum’s snare drum calling the listener to action on “To No One’s Surprise”. Trumpet and guitar share the first part of the melody and the band joins for the second A section onward. Baldwin wrote this tune after hearing the quote “to no one’s surprise and everyone’s sadness” referring to the passing of a beloved musician who struggled with addiction issues. Track two is a Hannigan composition entitled “Garfield Ave,” a rubato tribute to the street he lives on. It evokes the sound of Minneapolis on that first night of snow each winter.
Track three is the only traditional swinger on the tune. It’s entitled “Big Baby” as a nod to the Count Basie tune written by Neil Hefti, “Lil’ Darlin’. The next track, “Holds Water,” begins with a drum solo unfolding into a bass ostinato. The melody is played by guitar and then flugelhorn and is the only composition on the album where Baldwin is the only soloist. The abrupt change in the ending can best be described as cinematic. “Bad Wolf” is a straight 8th groove that serves as a breath between the more conventional first half of the album, and the more exploratory second half.
This more exploratory side of the record begins with the Hannigan composition “Dune,” a slow, doomy duet between trumpet and guitar giving way to a guitar heavy bridge and devolving into free improvisation, only to be skillfully snapped back into time by McKinney on bass. “Dune” is followed up by another Hannigan composition, “Doomsday Blues,” and the title says it all.
Next up is the two part tune “Manipedi,” which encompasses an Ornette Coleman-like free bop, heavy metal, free improvisation and ends with a triumphant indie rock outro where you can hear Baldwin accidentally kick over his water bottle in excitement at the song. The title track closes out the session and features McKinney and Hannigan creating counterpoints with each other as if playing musical tag.
Listeners will find Misc. Items to be an album worth visiting again and again because within the simplicity of all the tracks, the individual players add so many layers of subtlety that something new can be heard each time. This record is designed to be honest to Baldwin’s perception of himself and the world in which he wrote these tunes. Harder Nussbaum, McKinney, and Hannigan all shine as individuals and as a section. The trust and communication between each player can be clearly heard and each track is presented as honestly to each player’s personality. Perhaps the point is that miscellaneous items can sometimes be used together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.