Solo sound switch
The first stage of an album’s creation usually finds a songwriter making a demo recording, which contains a rough, basic foundation before other instruments are included and an arrangement sculpts it into a fully-realized shape.
Nat Baldwin approaches that process differently. In 2008 the double bassist released the critically-praised “Most Valuable Player.” Now, on Nov. 12, he looks back to that album’s origins with “Dome Branches: The MVP Demos,” With the inclusion of drums, clarinets, viola and his bandmate, Dirty Projects founder David Longstreth, on guitar the sessions stand up as a distinct set of material rather than sketches of songs marked by sparse production.
In a recent interview Baldwin said, “The versions are different enough, and I thought it would be cool to show a new side to the material.”
The busy Baldwin, who not only records and tours with Dirty Projectors but has contributed to acclaimed releases by Grizzly Bear (“Shields) and Vampire Weekend (“Contra”), sets off on a brief solo tour that includes a show Tuesday at Cedars West End.
“I’ll be playing some not-yet released material as well as some familiar ‘hits,'” he said.
“Dome Branches” doesn’t just present another take of the same songs, it displays a strong melodic edge to them prior to their transformation on “MVP.”
“I’d never played any of the songs live before at that point, so there’s a certain young energy that was captured in the demos,” he said.
In the case of Longstreth, he had not heard any of the numbers previously, so his parts were spontaneously created.
Contrasting the upcoming album with what’s heard on “MVP,” he said, “The released version was made after touring the material for a year, so it’s more polished and, of course, there’s a certain kind of energy created by the familiarity and tightness of the players.”
Studying avant-garde jazz and improvisation with the legendary Anthony Braxton, Baldwin concentrated on instrumental work. “I had an album come out in 2003 called “Solo Contrabass.” It consists of structured improvisations solely based on extended technique and texture, and was long before I ever wrote a song or sang.”
Two years later he began to use what he learned towards songs that blended jazz with classical, folk, world and rock elements.
“I was very interested in noise music and contemporary classical composition. As such an integral part of my development as a musician, it tends to creep into my current work. I think it can still have a place in song / melodic-based music and I enjoy trying to incorporate seemingly disparate approaches into something coherent.”
As evidenced by “Dome Branches” tracks such as “Lake Erie,” “Black Square” and “One Two Three,” he uses his voice as an instrument as much as he does his double bass.
“I’m definitely interested in timing and phrasing, so it makes sense to create a sort of elasticity within the melodic lines. It’s not like it was a conscious choice to sing a certain way when I started out. It just happened, and it’s developed accordingly.”
Besides an ongoing desire to create music that’s pleasing, challenging and complex, Baldwin’s also developed a consistency in the artwork for solo work that correlates to his obsession with basketball. That includes featuring his MVP trophy, awarded as the best player in the 1998 New England Prep School Championship tournament, on the cover of the album of the same name.
“There are obviously a lot of parallels between music and sports. Being on a team and being in a band is basically the exact same thing. People have certain roles and special talents that all add up to something when combined with those of others. There’s a lot of practice involved, and a common goal in mind.
He added, “The difference is that in sports, there’s a clear winner, so there’s a certain type of competitiveness that comes from that. You either win or lose. Your statistics can be quantified. It’s cut-and-dry, and I like that about it. Music, on the other hand, is more subjective, separating it from sports in a way I also love and relate to. Unfortunately, there are a lot of musicians out there who think they are competing on a basketball court.”