Jalen Baker – remember that name. Jalen is a young vibraphonist, he’s in fact still in school earning his master’s in music at Florida State University. He is also out and about gigging. I caught him at The Jazz Corner in February with the Ulysses Owens, Jr. Quartet. Owens himself is someone you want to know. The two-time Grammy winner is a percussionist Critical Jazz has called “a legitimate jazz triple threat,” who was a member of Christian McBride’s Trio, Big Band, played with Kurt Elling and other luminaries and whose involvement in special projects and community engagement has brought out the composer, musical director, educator and producer in him. The other members of the band were Liston Gregory III on piano, Philip Norris on bass, with special guest vocalist Kaiya Cash, all remarkable soloists and team players.
We had made reservations for six that night knowing Owens would be fronting his band. We’d seen/heard him on a jazz cruise a few years earlier with McBride and were so impressed with him that we were anxious to hear him again and introduce our friends to him. But when we got to the club and saw the vibraphone set up on stage, I was even more enthused.
So it was Baker I focused on, a fiery and passionate vibraphonist who so much resembles a youthful Hamp that I couldn’t help but call him a “young lion…el.” Whether it was the music of Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington or Grover Washington Jr., Baker was on it, playing the vibes like he was boxing with the instrument. At times it was a playful sparring session, each feeling the other out. At other times it was a full-on match of equals, that is, until Baker declared his dominance and the vibes knew to surrender. For a Valentine’s themed performance with the final tune “My Funny Valentine,” love conquered.