Marionettes On A High Wire
Baikida Carroll (OmniTone)
by John Murph
Balance. Baikida Carroll often
uses this word when talking either about writing music, surviving
in the music business, or juggling his multifaceted career
as an in-demand trumpeter and composer for various jazz ensembles
and film, dance and theater productions. Fence walking between
free and form, coarse and cushioned, and the circuitous and
concise are always on par for Carroll. His first release in
six years, Marionettes On A High Wire (OmniTone) is no exception.
Even the fanciful title clues you into the veteran trumpeters
musical scheme of concocting idiosyncratic originals that
come off unassumingly accessible and melodically cognizant.
[The title] is a metaphor for being
an artist whos trying to keep his or her palette colorful,
loose, creative and imaginative, and at the same time balances
some of the daily rigors like paying bills, Carroll
explains. Colorful, loose and imaginative are meek understatements
when describing the sumptuous music on Marionettes On A High
Wire. On the title track, Carroll creates a cliffhanger as
his and tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsays oblique melodies
and measured solos teeter over Pheeroan akLaffs military
press rolls, Adegoke Steve Colsons pecking piano accompaniment
and Michael Formaneks skulking bass. The whole
idea was that the drum sets up the tight press rolls, while
on the high wire, and we almost slip; setting up that tension
while a person is concentrating on the work, he laughs.
The whole thing is a metaphor the circus.
Other highly picturesque compositions
on Marionettes include the puckish ragtime Cab,
the stormy tribute to the late alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill
on Flamboye and the jaunty tribute to the late
pocket trumpeter Don Cherry on Griots Last Dance.
The last time I saw Don Cherry was in an airport, somewhere
in Ireland, Carroll says. He was talking and jumping
up emulating the Masai. So in the piece, the piano has a piece
in his right hand, where hes playing two and in the
left hand, hes playing three so, hes got
three against two. And the bass player is playing these three
phrases, so its like a 4/4 phrase the drummer
is playing four bars of three that reoccur at 12. While
all this is happening, theres this feeling of jumping
Carrolls affinity with stage and dance productions dates
all the way back to his college years where he took acting
courses at Southern Illinois University and St. Louis
Washington University. After serving in the army, he was recruited
by Julius Hemphill to join St. Louis Black Artists Group
(B.A.G.). His first gig there unsurprisingly was an acting
gig. Eventually his tenure with B.A.G. led to conducting the
big band and eventually composing. We would present
plays, and pieces with a painter and a dancer or whatever,
Carroll recalls. We had the facility and the staff to
facilitate that idea, and thats where I started writing.
Before that I was the conductor of a big band, so I had to
learn Oliver Lakes music, Julius music and everyone
elses music to conduct it. Basically it was the three
of us writing for the larger ensemble.
When discussing the difficulties of writing for theater or
dance as opposed to ensemble, Carroll admits that the collaboration
between music composer and director or choreographer can be
daunting. A lot of times, some of your best ideas are
left on the cutting-room floor, Carroll laughs. The
other challenge is when youre writing for improvisational
music, you have to set up an environment for improvising.
In theater music, its usually an underscore, so youre
basically trying to create a mood or an emotional undercurrent.
When you hear theater music, and youre sitting there
listening to the music, then the music is a failure, because
the object of going to a theater piece is to watch the play.