M.A. Bakker – Rejected Scripts (2016)

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Rejected Scripts, by Netherlands-based M.A. Bakker, touches on many of the elements I find myself coming back to repeatedly as a listener. The album, set for release on March 20, 2016, contains finely crafted, impeccably arranged and superbly played jazz-rock songs all written, produced and arranged Maarten Bakker.

Bakker, who is also currently the bassist for the band Amsterdam Saints, is a consummate craftsman, displaying excellent engineering, and production talents and expertly playing almost all the instruments with steely precision. M.A. Bakker’s debut has a fiction novel feel to it, using vivid lyrical imagery with a level of musicianship and recording dexterity from a by-gone and great era of music.

“Ming Zhao Paradise,” the lead-off track on Rejected Scripts, lays if all on the line, with cryptic lyrics sung by featured vocalist Warren Byrd over a precocious back beat. Bakker supplies a Toto-like synthesizer accent, and a David Foster-inspired piano solo which interplays with a flute. It all melds together perfectly. Quite a feat in a 4:30 rock-pop song. “All We Need (Is a Little Bit of Luck)” travels down more familiar middle-of-the-road rock territory; however, M.A. Bakker’s craftsmanship is unmistakable.

“Fright Night” heaps on elements of funk, with Bakker’s bass setting the pace. Lyrically, the song would make a tasty theme for a horror-parody film, with Byrd casting the spell which is enhanced by the female vocalist and a 1970s-era synthesizer sound. There’s even a compact Dean Parks-like middle guitar solo, reminiscent of Steely Dan’s “Rose Darling.”

Bakker’s piano and organ starts off “House of Leaves” with a tinge of gospel, though it quickly gives way to forward-leaning R&B/Rock. Warren Byrd’s vocal is prominent in the mix, as is the compact and powerful horn section. It’s a perfect companion to a sunny day cruise on your favorite stretch of road. Meanwhile, M.A. Bakker’s guitar skills are 1970s-era L.A sharp. The guitar parts on “The Sirens of Titan” recall Jay Graydon, while the synthesizer solo – also played by Bakker – has a hint of Toto’s Steve Porcaro. The song has enough changes to satisfy fans of that musical genre, yet is given just enough lyrical heft balanced with ambiguity to keep things interesting.

The drums on Rejected Scripts are one of a few instruments not played by Bakker. Peter Weissink provided the tasteful, yet adventuresome drum tracks. On “The Sirens of Titan,” he executes fills and time signature changes with the precision fitting this project.

On “The Amazing Hat,” lead vocalist Warren Byrd rises to the challenge of the setting, spitting out lyrics and leading the background singers around a complex web of changes and sassy-yet-fun lyrics. M.A. Bakker’s horn arrangement evokes Tower of Power’s finest, with a mix of soul and jazz befitting the song. Bakker even has an opportunity to throw in a powerful Hammond B-3 solo to tie all the funk elements together. It’s a fitting way to end a near-perfect solo debut.

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