Marionettes On A High Wire Baikida Carroll (OmniTone)
July 2001
Dramatic Dare
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 trumpeter’s musical scheme of concocting idiosyncratic originals that come off unassumingly accessible and melodically cognizant.

        [The title] is a metaphor for being an artist who’s 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 Lindsay’s oblique melodies and measured solos teeter over Pheeroan akLaff’s military press rolls, Adegoke Steve Colson’s pecking piano accompaniment and Michael Formanek’s 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 “Griot’s 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 he’s playing two and in the left hand, he’s playing three – so, he’s got three against two. And the bass player is playing these three phrases, so it’s like a 4/4 phrase – the drummer is playing  four bars of three that reoccur at 12. While all this is happening, there’s this feeling of jumping straight up.”

        Carroll’s 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 that’s where I started writing. Before that I was the conductor of a big band, so I had to learn Oliver Lake’s music, Julius’ music and everyone else’s 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 you’re writing for improvisational music, you have to set up an environment for improvising. In theater music, it’s usually an underscore, so you’re basically trying to create a mood or an emotional undercurrent. When you hear theater music, and you’re 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.” full review home page Back