Blindfold Test: Joey Baron


“Bill Stewart has nothing to prove,” Baron says. “I aspire to that ethic.”

(Photo: Michael Jackson)

At 68, Joey Baron has been a lifelong connoisseur of the nuances of groove and melody-oriented drumming. Over his half-century in the trenches, he’s covered a 360-degree spectrum of stylistic expression — a resume that includes, as a very short list, Carmen McRae, Hampton Hawes, the Vanguard Orchestra (when Mel Lewis was incapacitated), Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Ron Carter, Dave Douglas, Jim Hall, Al Jarreau and David Bowie. Based in Berlin, Germany, in recent years, Baron often plays with MixMonk, a collective trio with pianist Bram de Looze and saxophonist Robin Verheyen, which performed in March at the Bergamo Jazz Festival, where he sat for his second DownBeat Blindfold Test.

Walter Smith III

“Amelia Earhart Ghosted Me” (Return To Casual, Blue Note, 2023) Smith, tenor saxophone; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Taylor Eigsti, piano, keyboards; Harish Ragavan, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums.

The drummer is so precise, churning beautifully, all the pistons firing perfectly. The tight tuning and the technical ease of the execution tell me it’s a younger drummer. It’s mixed so you hear everything perfectly, but I’d like to hear how they sound in person — the blend. There’s a lot of notes from everybody except the pianist. I enjoyed the piece, but the longer it went, the further away it got from maybe what it was about, and I lost interest. I’m looking for the story.

Tyshawn Sorey Trio

“From Time To Time” (Mesmerism, Pi, 2022) Sorey, drums; Aaron Diehl, piano; Matt Brewer, bass.

Very patient. Technically, you can hear everything — the piano is as big as the Grand Canyon! It unfolded nicely. I liked everybody’s moves. People seemed to be equally dipping into the pot of the meal being cooked. That cymbal crash makes me think of Tyshawn Sorey. [afterwards] Tyshawn is brilliant. He has utter control. He has the sensibility of letting something go, not being afraid of the silence. You can’t learn what it is that he does. He has a real gift.

Jean-Michel Pilc/Francois Moutin/Ari Hoenig

“Bemsha Swing” (YOU Are The Song, Justin Time, 2023) Pilc, piano; Moutin, bass; Hoenig, drums.

“Bemsha Swing.” I liked how they were phrasing the melody, and carrying that through in the playing. The drummer sounded more interested in music than trying to fit in patterns — great feel. [afterwards] Ari goes for a literal display of melodic ideas, and does it really well. I’ve taken that path as opposed to the technical, “Hey, look what I can do” or super-energy thing. I’m less interested in actually playing the melody verbatim than in organizing those sounds in a way where the listener will perceive something.

Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart

“FU Donald” (Perpetual Pendulum, Smoke Sessions, 2022) Goldings, organ; Bernstein, guitar, Stewart, drums.

I love organ groups. The drummer seemed like a team player, and they all were doin’ that thing! I liked the tune. It had a vibe, and who knows if it’s in 4 or 7 or whatever — but I don’t really care. I have no idea who it is. [afterwards] It’s a team. You can tell from the start they’re all in agreement. Bill has it all. He can swing his ass off. He’s got a great feel and a great sound; you can hear it on records, because he’s so clear. He’s had a huge impact, with so many people imitating him. Bill Stewart has nothing to prove. I aspire to that ethic. You reach a point where certain things are important, and a whole ton of other shit is just not.

John Patitucci Trio

“Three Pieces Of Glass” (Live In Italy, Three Faces, 2022) Patitucci, bass; Chris Potter, soprano saxophone; Brian Blade, drums.

Soulful melody; real inviting to listen to. The template clearly identifies the world they’re entering. The bass player’s solo was very clear, so in-tune. It didn’t veer off someplace where you wonder what they’re doing. They sounded like much more than a trio. There was space in the head — very simple, but giving the listener room to allow what is being played to resonate. The drummer had a nice contour — I liked the little shaker things and the time felt great. The cymbal sound and the voice makes me think of Brian Blade. You can hear the engagement with the audience. [afterwards] I’ve talked to John and Brian, and they would want to play time in certain situations. To hear them do it is a joy to listen to.

Terri Lyne Carrington

“Unchanged” (New Standards, Vol. 1, Candid, 2022) Carrington, drums; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Kris Davis, piano; Linda May Han Oh, bass.

A lot of work went into the execution. I’m so distracted by the recorded sound that it interferes with being able to enjoy the music. Personally, I’ve done records I can’t listen to now, even though people may enjoy them. The drummer is fantastic, with a churning flow, in control of the instrument, very clear and precise. I imagine live you’d hear their balance on the instrument and it would sound incredible. All I’m hearing here is the notes. That sounds like bassist Linda May Han Oh, who I’ve played with — her ideas are so clear.

Aruan Ortiz/Andrew Cyrille

“Golden Voice (Changüi)” (Inside Rhythmic Falls, Intakt, 2020) Ortiz, piano; Cyrille, drums.

Very articulate playing by both musicians. You could hear the ideas; it didn’t get dense or thick. The ring of the drums made me think of Andrew Cyrille, who has this particular thing on the snare drum. He makes me smile. Andrew is such a great solo player, I kind of wanted to hear that. I don’t know the pianist. The scalar approach was making me lose interest. These days when I hear a pitched instrument, I want to hear some melodic ideas. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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