Brian Baggett Trio—Groovin’ and Swingin’ At Green Lady Lounge CD Review & Interview
By Dr. Wayne Goins
“When I put the group together, I used the atmosphere of the club to dictate the vibe of the group, letting the room ‘play the band,’ so to speak.” These are the words of guitarist Brian Baggett, whose debut solo album, Groovin’ and Swingin’ At Green Lady Lounge, was recorded in September of 2021 in front of a live audience at the venue.
Brian is no stranger to the Lady—he’s there five or six nights a week, playing in his own trio, as well as in OJT with organist Ken Lovern, (he’s played with Ken for more than twenty years) and also as a member of Guitar Elation, with Ken and guitarist Danny Embry.
Baggett’s new album of twelve tracks—six dedicated to “Groovin’” and six for “Swingin’—was co-produced with Lovern. Featuring all-original songs written by Baggett, his two cohorts in the trio include Taylor Babb on drums and Ben Tervort on bass. With the album officially slated for release on November 7, Baggett and his unique Gibson-brand Howard Roberts Fusion guitar is captured in rare form on this four-sided, two-disc vinyl set. “I liked grouping the tunes,” he said in a recent interview. “Initially I thought they would be separate releases.”
Side One, dedicated to the “Groovin’ Songs”opens with "Door Man," an ethereal tune in ¾, a medium-slow, loping swing with a loose arpeggiated melody that seemingly floats simultaneously above, below, and through the middle of the chord progression. The piece, says Brian, is “a song heavily inspired by the instrumental, desert rock band Yawning Man. The ‘Door’ part is a nod to the great Danny Embrey and his tune ‘Door Prize.’ Danny’s tune influenced the ‘A’ section of ‘Door Man’. I use a phaser on the ‘B’ section in memory of Edward Van Halen.”
Brian changes the pace immediately with the twangy piece, "Country Creek," which employs a completely different timbre than the previous track. The tune was inspired by the Børn song, "Electric Love." Say Baggett, “I combined this inspiration with the Travis picking technique made famous by Chet Atkins. I developed this technique to showcase certain guitars when I was making guitar demos. I purposely moved the vibe of this song from light to dark and back. The dark section was inspired by guitar great Robben Ford.”
The sly snaky tune, "Boje Tea" was composed and dedicated to Brian’s friend George Boje. “George is a big supporter of live music in KC, especially guitar players. One of his favorite tunes is John Scofield's ‘Green Tea,’ so my song for George uses those chord changes in a new key with two extra hits at the bottom of the form.” Baggett’s level of musical empathy goes even deeper when he exclaims, “Around the time I wrote this song we lost the drummer from Rush, Neil Peart. ‘Boje Tea’ has hints of ‘La Villa Strangiato’ in the intro and song as a tribute to Rush and the incredible drumming of Neil Peart.” Ben Tervort’s bass solo adds quite a lift to the tune, with his tone so thick and dark. Meanwhile Babb’s drums roll and tumble with great clarity, his time and timbre capturing the music perfectly for the atmosphere.
"Albervan Street" is a tune that features a guitar sound that serves up a strong chorus effect that reminds me of the Roland Chorus guitar amps of long ago that were made so popular by Pat Metheny in the 70’s. Brian says the piece is “a simple, R&B ballad that utilizes the common jazz chord progression ii- V-I-VI. The melody was inspired by the innovative guitar band Chon. The guitar sound is influenced by the new guitar sounds of Mac Demarco and Puma Blue.”
"Volkov's Theme" has musical elements that immediately conjures a bit of foreign intrigue. Indeed, the melody, rhythm, and chord progression hint at something beyond our borders. “It’s a song I wrote as part of a movie soundtrack. One of the characters was a Russian mob boss named Volkov. This is a challenging song to play because of the odd phrase length of the ‘A’ sections,” The captivating tune is a superior vehicle for highlighting the strengths of all three players—the deft interaction between bass, drums and guitar is enticing from start to finish.
The pace gets changed again with the laid-back, “My Blues and You Can’t Have Them,” a tune that Baggett says represents “my pandemic blues. We all have our own blues inside of us. This song is a simple slow blues in C with three unique choruses to it. I drew some inspiration from Coltrane's blues playing as well as guitarist Jim Campilongo and his rhythm playing on "Blues for Roy." Baggett’s slinky, swaggering solo is all grease-and-funk, followed by a perky bass solo from Ben.
The “Swingin’ Songs” of Side Two of the disc opens with a tune, "Rooftop Blues," which is dedicated in memory of the well-loved member of KC’s jazz family, drummer Kevin Frazee—“my friend and favorite drummer,” Baggett states. About the tune, Brian shares the following: “Ken Lovern, Kevin Frazee, David Basse, and I used to play on a rooftop restaurant in Kansas City every Wednesday. I wrote a blues, and we played it there once or twice. Years later Kevin Frazee told me he had a version of it on a recording and that's when we resurrected "Rooftop Blues.” The tune might already be familiar to some, as it was also recorded on the OJT album, New Originals for the Green Lady. That particular version was brighter in mood and tempo, but Brian says this one is different. “The slow version included on this album features some classic guitar double stops and a stylistic nod to Bill Frisell.”
The tremolo-laden melody of "Pretty Toasted" creates a refreshing change of pace, and the syncopated solo Baggett serves immediately after is probably the most creative and inspiring on the entire album. According to Brian, the tune was inspired by the great tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The mysteriously dark melody is delivered in a tonal register that comes as a bit of a surprise, albeit one that is nonetheless captivating. “When I initially wrote this song it was low and slow like the version recorded here—this song and arrangement exemplify the vibe of Green Lady Lounge.”
The altered blues tune, "Baggy Blue Jeans" a spunky grove that sports a title that comes from Brian—it’s is a self-given nickname,” he says. This blues is a study of ‘drop two’ chord voicings [a harmonic guitar chord technique borrowed from the guitar instructors at Berklee College of Music in Boston] and features a unique turnaround—inspired, according to Baggett, by Wes Montgomery and the Latin bounce of ‘Bird ‘[Charlie Parker].”
“Going to Chi Town” was inspired by the Deep Blue Organ Trio—a legendary guitar/organ/drums trio that was well-established in the Midwest decades ago by the guitar great and current Northern Illinois University guitar instructor, Bobby Broom. “It’s my tribute to Broom,” Brian admits. “I've watched their DVD, Live at the Green Mill at least a hundred times. He further confesses, “The version we play in my trio is also inspired by the classic guitar instrumental ‘Sleepwalk.’” You can in, fact, hear an almost-direct quote scattered throughout the front end of couple of his tasty solo choruses.
"14" starts with a well-executed, lengthy rubato phrase that sets the tone for the entire tune, which turns out to be a hard-swinging blues bop with a couple of extra measures added just for the fun of it. The piece has the awesome aura of John Scofield’s oeuvre permeating throughout. “It’s a fourteen-measure blues that I wrote several years ago while sitting on a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico,” he informs. “I had some help with the arrangement from Ken Lovern—I believe he came up with some of the chord changes in the turnaround.” Demonstrating his wide-ranging roster of musical influences, he reveals that “This one was loosely inspired by playing [Hammond B3 organist] Larry Young’s tune “Backup” in the organ trio. Both the bass and drum solos by Tervort and Babb are brief yet add significantly to the aggressive, edgy groove that keeps the audience enthralled. The closer, “That’s What,” is a fiery, multi-metered marathon sprint to the finish line of this set. “This song is based on the modal form used in ‘So What’ by Miles Davis and also John Coltrane's ‘Impressions,’ Baggett says. “I use this tune to showcase Ben Tervort and Taylor Babb on the version included here,’ he says, and the bandmates don’t disappoint—their ability to shift seamlessly from ¾ to the hard-driving up-tempo bop groove is impressive. “Organist Ken Lovern and Drummer Todd Strait helped me work out the metric modulations between three-four and four-four time on this song.” Indeed, the sophisticated syncopation is irresistible to the ears, and Baggett’s overall concept is founded in the sonic tradition of a recently deceased jazz guitar legend. “My take on this modal progression pays homage to the late Pat Martino using rhythms and techniques from his song ‘The Great Stream,’ Brian says.
Pound for pound, this album delivers the goods on every level—the compositions are first-rate, the performance of all three members is top-shelf, and the production and recording quality is consistently excellent. Brian Baggett has a real winner on his hands with this album, and this concept of delivering two sides of the coin—swingin’ and groovin’—is exactly what the band delivers. The flawless execution of these original compositions only increases the anticipation for what comes next from this gifted guitarist.
BRIAN BAGGETT TRIO-- Groovin’ and Swingin’ available at Green Lady Lounge 365 days a year, and online at http://brianbaggett.net