This 2016 recording by the Christopher Bakriges Quartet, entitled Clear & Present, ought to be all the rage not the least because the quartet comprises an intergalactic constellation of stars who, as Bakriges puts it, “walk on water”. A pianist extraordinaire himself Bakriges would seem to be selling himself short – very short indeed. And all it takes to confirm this is to feast your senses upon some of the most wonderfully written and robust music that seems, expressly created to fire up the imaginations of vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Billy Arnold; not to mention its creator, Christopher Bakriges himself.
The musical content of Clear & Present far outweighs the spare packaging, something that is fast turning many presentation of the compact disc, though not this one, into one resembling just a humble square envelope. However, it doesn’t really matter in the case of this fine disc by the Christopher Bakriges Quartet. The pianist, together with Hoggard, Sharpe and Arnold, plays every one of his songs with unimpeachable fastidiousness. There is also much to savour in Bakriges’ visceral energy, accentuated by the appetite of a musical zealot. Fortunately for him this flaming musicianship has stoked by the like-minded who have been assembled to celebrate Christopher Bakriges’ music.
Christopher Bakriges has developed something of a reputation for edge-of-the-seat virtuoso risk-taking. This CD is the absolute epitomé of that fact; a series of longish pieces evoking atmospheres of the nooks and crannies that the pianist seems to lure his accompanying musicians into, together to create the equivalent of the musical Northern Lights to illuminate a Southerly stage. Universal emotions are at work here. Digging deep, in keeping with the theme, you will find something to enjoy, discover and identify with. Songs such as ‘Primary Colors’, ‘Gnosis’ and ‘Curious Birds’ say it best as they conjure images of a magical, mysterious and alluring adventure.
Through it all, Christopher Bakriges’ is eloquent indeed; his voicing expertly balanced between the classical and the utterly modern in music. His phrasing suggests a barely tangible warp, intertwined with the gossamer-like weft of Jay Hoggard’s vibraphone, Avery Sharpe’s resonant bass and Billy Arnold’s percussion colourings. And the quartet ‘sings’ like a celestial choir in full voice. Bakriges’ fingerwork is especially scintillating in “Litima”, Hoggard’s’ malletwork is similarly magnificent in “Gnosis” while Sharpe’s glorious bass lines and Billy Arnold’s melodic accompaniment is the sustaining radiance and the momentous engine-room of all eight tunes. Together these men infuse music with otherworldly beauty.
Everybody contributes to the heavy-lifting is all of the musicians, but credit must also go to Warren Amerman who is the architect of this sound and whose behind-the-console-ear ought to make a greater claim to fame, and just might now that this brilliantly-written and equally-brilliantly performed music has seen the light of day.
Track List – Door to no Return; Litima; Primary Colours; Gnosis; Curious Birds; Blue Book; Fountain of the Innocents; Western Oceans, Eastern Seas.
Personnel – Christopher Bakriges: piano; Jay Hoggard: vibraphone; Billy Arnold: drums; Avery Sharpe: bass.