Eric Baumgartner | The Panda Tapes

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Rock: Progressive Rock Jazz: Jazz-Rock Moods: Type: Instrumental
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The Panda Tapes

by Eric Baumgartner

This album of jazz, rock and prog tunes (instrumental in nature) is brimming with wit, originality and flair.
Genre: Rock: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Three Up Johnny
7:03 $0.99
2. The Cupboard of Useful Things
4:13 $0.99
3. Rumpelfunkskin
5:30 $0.99
4. Fig Tree Pocket
5:49 $0.99
5. Il Lavello Della Cucina
4:20 $0.99
6. Kiddie Winkies (& Terrible Tiny Tots)
5:26 $0.99
7. Bandicoots
12:32 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This is the debut album by composer and multi-instrumentalist, Eric Baumgartner. It is an eclectic mix of progressive rock, jazz and funk and features some very clever players indeed!

Eric Baumgartner - Keyboards, Minimmog Voyager, guitars, bass, percussion
Adam Wheeler - Drums
Steve Langemo - All guitars on 'Johnny' and 'Cupboard'
Brad Myers - All guitars on 'Funkskin'



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An appointment well worth keeping
The Panda Tapes, Eric Baumgartner’s 2013 debut as a leader, is a laid-back, tasteful, and tuneful affair that showcases his varied skill set (he also acts as producer, arranger, and engineer). His musical chops are on full display, playing keyboards, Minimoog Voyager, electric and acoustic guitars, Trilian bass software, percussion, and effects, as is his compositional flair. There is an uncommon focus to his compositions. Pieces have a beginning, middle, and end. Themes are resolved and revisited.

With the exception of uniformly excellent drumming by long-time associate Adam Wheeler and several guitar solos by a pair of talented guests, this is largely a one-man show by Mr. Baumgartner. And it’s an impressive one, at that, for the native Ohioan who holds degrees from Berklee and DePaul and works as a composer, arranger, and clinician for Hal Leonard Publishing. His piano works for students have taken him around the U.S.A. and Canada teaching, as well as two tours of Australia.

Enhanced by the mastering of Steve Hoffman and Stephen Marsh, The Panda Tapes has got a warm, retro vibe to it that doesn’t smack you in the face – which actually takes a little getting used to in our “these go to 11” world. In particular, Tracks 1 & 2 are organ-dominated numbers that conjure up late nights and harken back to the sounds of jazz stalwarts Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff.

One hears echoes of Steely Dan, particularly in guitar solos that evoke memories of stellar work by session masters like Larry Carlton and Jay Graydon in that band’s catalog. This is not too surprising, since all of the participants in The Panda Tapes are members of the acclaimed Cincinnati-based Steely Dan tribute band, ‘Aja.’ Becker & Fagen are a part of Baumgartner’s musical DNA, to the point where “Danisms” ooze into and out of his tunes in always-amusing places. Their influence is so deep and fully absorbed, however, that it sounds completely natural and organic here, rather than formulaic or an exercise in mimicry. This music is fresh, expressing Baumgartner’s own voice, and never sounds derivative.

There is a sense of whimsy about this recording – from the title, to the cover art by Jeffrey Zwartjes, to the track names – and, often, to the music itself. It’s got a lilt in its voice and a spring in its step. The album kicks off with Three Up Johnny and its jaunty organ line, with a soaring synthesizer floating above it at times. Guest guitarist Steve Langemo and Baumgartner exchange several tasty guitar and organ solos, followed by a brief piano solo. This mid-tempo, organ-led piece is representative of the general feel of a thoughtful album that doesn’t rush to its destination, and a harbinger of pleasing things to come.

Adam Wheeler’s delicate brushwork introduces The Cupboard Of Useful Things (the working title was “Jazz Waltz”) and, again, late-night organ dominates the track. The highlight here is a string synth arrangement, reminiscent of Paul Buckmaster’s work on Elton John’s “Madman Across The Water,” that alternately swells urgently and recedes gracefully. Again, restrained Steely Dan-influenced guitar work from Langemo is featured here, with traces of Pat Metheny added for good measure.

Perhaps my favorite track, the speedy Rumpelfunkskin follows. The Trilian software spawns a killer bass line which, coupled with funky clavinet, gets the toes to tapping. A playful synth line and fabulously jagged and anarchic piano solo set the stage for an unexpected Latin-tinged section that is brief, but effective. Brad Myers’ hot guitar solo keeps the momentum going, eventually resolving to the original theme as the track plays out, punctuated by a fleeting coin spin – a tip of the cap, perhaps, to Gentle Giant’s “The Boys In The Band.”

While the next tune has plenty of groove of its own, Fig Tree Pocket mellows us out a bit after the previous funkfest, with its sly synth riff. Electric piano anchors the track (named for a remote suburb of Brisbane). After three tracks that featured hired-hand guitar slingers, Baumgartner himself straps on a 6-string here and acquits himself beautifully, with some intricate and intelligent picking on a solo of his own.

An homage to many things “prog,” Il Lavello Della Cucina lets out all the stops, with vintage Moog sounds (courtesy of the Voyager) that will delight fans of the progressive rock genre. The repeating piano figure one minute into this track lays the groundwork for a haunting, somewhat sinister, interlude that’s drenched in Mellotron string samples. This section also includes some great percussion work by Wheeler, while Baumgartner bangs away on “everything but the kitchen sink,” as the title would imply.

Kiddie Winkies (& Terrible Tiny Tots), a nod to the 10cc song “I Wanna Rule The World,” puts one in mind of a Mai Tai-infused reggae band with its understated clavinet and marimba. Yet another nice guitar solo darts in and out of the keyboards and a lazy synth solo in the vein of Lyle Mays’ work with the Pat Metheny Group closes the piece.

The epic Bandicoots (a marsupial indigenous to Australia) concludes the album with a stately grandeur. Opening like a refugee from “Dark Side Of The Moon,” electric piano and various flavors of synths herald the main melody line (and a host of variations, as Baumgartner’s creativity gets room to play). Midway through, he takes things down a few notches as a lovely, wistful piano and acoustic guitar duet ensues. This later melts into an elegiac synth section, backed by Wheeler’s strong percussive work, which ends the proceedings in fine style. As the track winds down, we’re treated to just a dash of tubular bells – only fitting, one might say, for a prog epic. Finally, a Mellotron flute coda that could have been straight out of “I Talk To The Wind” from King Crimson’s iconic debut ends abruptly, leaving us hanging… hinting, perhaps, that there’s more to come from this promising artist. We can only hope so.

While the styles of individual tracks vary greatly with elements of jazz, progressive rock, and funk, Eric Baumgartner has a very definite voice that unifies and lends cohesion to the album as a whole. His remarkable compositional, arranging, and playing styles are the glue that makes it all hang together. A listen to The Panda Tapes is an appointment well worth keeping.