RMI Records is proud to announce the release of pianist Noah Baerman’s new duo album Alter Ego, celebrating twenty years of partnership with bassist Henry Lugo. Baerman’s first “standards” album, Alter Ego displays the pair’s near-telepathic interplay and shared sense of groove. Years past the point where Baerman expected to be forced into retirement by the impact of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, we can hear his enduring command of the piano and the important role that Lugo’s buoyant support and creative stimulation have provided to enable it.
While Baerman had been documented performing duets before (including a duet with Ron Carter on Baerman’s 2003 album Patch Kit and several duets on his 2005 appearance on Marian McPartland’s long-running NPR program Piano Jazz), he had never spotlighted the duo format. This album was conceived spontaneously surrounding a session for Baerman’s previous release, Love Right. Finding himself with a couple unused hours of studio time at the New Haven, CT studio Firehouse 12, Baerman and Lugo went in and in 90 minutes reeled off a seven-song set in order, all but one of them in single takes. After hundreds of performances and eight prior albums together, plus several more as fellow sidemen on others’ projects, the two were well equipped to just roll tape and play.
In contrast to Baerman’s penchant for concept albums, the material on Alter Ego is more loosely bound together, though all the chosen compositions are love songs of one sort or another. The primary focus of the session was to lay back and enjoy playing together in the spirit of some of their favorite piano/bass duos such as Kenny Barron/Charlie Haden, Cedar Walton/Ron Carter, Hank Jones/Red Mitchell, and Joanne Brackeen/Eddie Gomez, among others. While they have played together with dozens of different drummers through the years, this session was their first in this configuration.
The album opens with a lyrical, swinging take on the Rodgers and Hart standard “My Romance,” at once inspired by seemingly disparate recordings by Tuck & Patti and Hampton Hawes. The duo moves from there to an energetic rendering of the title track, a composition by a shared hero of theirs, the late pianist/composer James Williams, and a song they have performed together often through the years. Next up are two pieces of Ellingtonia, a spirited romp on Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and a slow, tender interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss.” Returning to relaxed swing, they evoke the feeling of soft shoe on “But Beautiful,” a standard they had never previously played together, and one more commonly performed as a ballad. By contrast, they have often performed their driving, odd-time arrangement of “Creepin’,” originally part of a never-recorded 2010 trio project reimagining the entirety of Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale album. The set of music is rounded out with a lyrical, soulful performance of an early Tom Waits song, “I Want You.”
Of his relationship with bassist Lugo, Baerman says “Henry’s selflessness and humility on and off the bandstand are such that it would be easy to take him and his exceptional musicianship for granted. But what a gift to have had his musicianship and friendship laying the foundation for most of what I have accomplished musically for the last twenty years, and what a lovely opportunity this is to shine a spotlight on that for others to hear.”
released October 21, 2022
Noah Baerman - piano
Henry Lugo - bass
Recorded September 29, 2019 by Greg DiCrosta at Firehouse 12, New Haven CT
Mixed and Mastered by Joshua Kwassman at SquarEast Studios in Brooklyn, NY
Design by Dave Kopperman
Photos by Kate Ten Eyck
(c) 2022 RMI Records, a division of Resonant Motion, Inc.