Cellar Music released two albums by young vibraphonists in 2023: our own Atley King's album Unconditional, and American vibist Jalen Baker's Be Still.
They're both playing at Jazz at the Bolt on February 17, 2024, so I thought why not do a vibes check? I asked each vibraphonist to write me back some notes after listening to the other's music.
Atley King: Unconditional
An album I've been anticipating for a while – I went to a performance at Frankie's by Atley and a slightly different ensemble before the record came out:
Unconditional is the debut on record of bassist David Caballero, and you also get the Brad Turner, David, and Arvind trio, which I'm sure will be recorded in its own right at some point. But of course, it's the leader, Atley, with his compositions; except for Coltrane's "Naima", the last tune, played with a reverence.
But it's a party – you hear the enthusiasm of the band faintly in the background, when you're listening on headphones, about how excited they are about each other's playing.
Jalen Baker checks out the album
"I really enjoyed listening to Atley King's album [...] The first thing I noticed was the vibraphone and trumpet front line. These two instruments sound great together, but you rarely hear albums with this configuration, and the way Atley blends the vibraphone with the trumpet on his compositions is very nice."
"The thing that I enjoyed most about the record aside from everyone's great playing was the underlying feeling and sound of the blues that's present in every composition. Every track is played with such emotion and conviction. Really a joy to listen to."
Baker singled out "Attachment" as a favourite track.
Unconditional: Now And Then; To Each Their Own; Doing Good; For Our Friends; Attachment; Unconditional; Wondering; Context; Naima. (56:15)
Personnel: Atley King on vibraphone; Max Huberdeau on piano; Brad Turner on flugelhorn; David Caballero on bass; Arvind Ramdas on drums.
Jalen Baker: Be Still
Be Still to me is a brighter album sonically, with the elements more separated and open – not better or worse, just an abstract way to compare the two records. Right down to the bass playing, these albums were crafted in two distinct rooms.
Atley King checks out the album
"I feel super inspired after taking a listen [..] On this record, Jalen found many very creative ways of using the ensemble expressively through his writing. I especially enjoy some of the very intricate arrangements on the original tunes. My favourites so far have been 'Lexi’s Lullaby' and 'There’s Beauty in Fear.'
"Jalen’s playing is really showcased on this record, and it’s great to hear how well he can lead the band higher and higher as his solos develop. The transitions between sections on many of these tunes are seamless, and show a band that has a very clear idea of where the music is headed. I’m glad Joe Henderson’s 'Jinrikisha' could make an appearance as well. The decision to use a backbeat here lands well and really makes me think that we could use a bit more of that in jazz today. Over the last few years we have seen too many poorly executed J Dilla grooves, but this precise and forward-moving feel finds itself in good hands here.
"I’ll have to keep this record in mind as I write my own music. There is a lot of great stuff going on here."
Be Still: Twas; Be Still; Lexi's Lullaby; Herzog; Jinrikisha; There's Beauty In Fear; The Light; Body & Soul. (49:56)
Personnel: Jalen Baker on vibraphone; Paul Cornish on piano; Gabe Godoy on bass; Gavin Moolchan on drums.