Not long ago, Jeff Baker, the vocalist and educator, observed a building in the initial stages of construction next to his apartment in Portland, Ore. “They were building this tiny tower right in the middle and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was,” Baker says. “Then I realized, Oh, that’s the elevator shaft. They have to finish that before they can do things around it.”
Baker used the metaphor of the elevator shaft and building from the inside out—a concept he also gleaned from producer T Bone Burnett—in creating his latest album, Phrases. For the recording, Baker wrote several new songs, adapting texts by Pablo Neruda, J.D. Salinger, and other well-known authors, and also chose some covers, including both jazz standards and pop tunes by Billy Joel, Ryan Adams, and Bonnie Raitt. Then he arranged the songs for a 12-piece ensemble (including himself) featuring such heavies as drummer Brian Blade, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, and trumpeter Marquis Hill, along with a string quartet.