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Chet Baker Sings

DreamCovers Records 6100




Chet Baker was only 58 when he died as a result of a fall from the second floor window of his hotel in Amsterdam in May 1988, in circumstances which, at the time, some speculated were suspicious. Chet was an iconic figure in the West Coast jazz scene in his younger days. By the time of his death, his youthful good looks had been ravaged by years of dissipation, much of it the result of his drug habit. His legacy, however, is his music. Recently, a number of his albums have been re-issued, probably because of the new biopic of Chet starring Ethan Hawke, Born To Be Blue. Baker was renowned for his melodic warm-toned trumpet playing, particularly with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and for his work with pianist Russ Freeman. Another facet of his talent was his singing which was marked by tenderness and vulnerability and which widened his appeal to audiences even more, in those early days. This particular disc is drawn from albums recorded for Pacific Jazz during the 1950s, a decade during which he was at his best. In addition, ten tracks from two other vocal sessions have been included as a bonus. The focus, as is apparent from the album's title, is on Chet's singing but there is enough of his trumpet on these tracks to convey why he was so popular. Amidst the varied line-ups present on the disc there is a constant figure alongside Baker, one of his most accomplished collaborators, pianist Russ Freeman.

The material on this CD consists of standards, most of them well-known. There are odd exceptions, such as the corny My Buddy and a song I don't recall having heard before (and don't expect to hear again) Grey December. Otherwise, there are excellent renditions of classics such as Like Someone In Love, I've Never Been in Love Before, But Not For Me, There Will Never Be Another You and, of course, one of Chet's signature performances, My Funny Valentine. For this listener, the truly exceptional tracks, though, are I Fall In Love Too Easily, Let's Get Lost and You Don't Know What Love Is. I Fall In Love Too Easily is immaculately delivered by Baker's voice with just the right amount of moodiness, his trumpet gently exploring the theme and Russ Freeman providing superlative support. Let's Get Lost was used by documentary maker Bruce Weber for the title of his film about Chet. Here, there is a vibrant version of the Frank Loesser/Jimmy McHugh song with the whole group firing on all cylinders. As for You Don't Know What Love Is, a moving vocal backed by Freeman's fitting accompaniment is crowned by an exquisite trumpet solo.

As I've suggested, there is some sterling material and performances on this CD but also less impressive moments, particularly on tracks 21-24, where Chet's quartet is joined by a string section. A pity really because Bud Shank is also a soloist on flute at this point. Easy listening would be the best description for this latter batch of tunes. The purist verdict on Chet's singing tends to be dismissive. It's true that he can sound more like a crooner than an out-and-out jazz singer but his diction is clear as a bell and he draws out the quality of the lyrics as well as the beauty of the tunes. The jazz sensibility he brought to his trumpet playing is there, too, in his vocal interpretations. The writer Ted Gioia suggests in his definitive volume West Coast Jazz that Baker's influence was subsequently apparent in the vocal stylings of the Brazilian Joćo Gilberto and beyond. Chet's trumpet playing on much of this disc illustrates the truth of the adage 'Less is more'. Maybe overall this collection is short on excitement but it still delivers much satisfaction. Jazz, after all, should be for every mood and occasion.

James Poore

1. That Old Feeling

2. It's Always You

3. Like Someone In Love

4. My Ideal

5. I've Never Been In Love Before

6. My Buddy

7. But Not For Me

8. Time After Time

9. I Get Along Without You Very Well

10. My Funny Valentine

11. There Will Never Be Another You

12. The Thrill Is Gone

13. I Fall In Love Too Easily

14. Look For The Silver Lining

15. Daybreak

16. Just Friends

17. I Remember You

18. Let's Get Lost

19. Long Ago And Far Away

20. You Don't Know What Love Is

21. This Is Always

22. Someone To Watch Over Me

23. Grey December

24. I Wish I Knew

Chet Baker - Vocals, trumpet

Russ Freeman - Piano, celeste (track 4)

Jimmy Bond - Bass (tracks 1-6)

Carson Smith - Bass (tracks 7-11, 13-20)

Joe Mondragon - Bass (track 12)

Red Mitchell - Bass (tracks 21-24)

Peter Littman - Drums (tracks 1, 2, 5)

Lawrence Marable - Drums (tracks 3, 4, 6)

Bob Neel - Drums (tracks 7-11, 13, 14, 15-24)

Shelly Manne - Drums (track 12)

Bud Shank - Flute (tracks 21-24)

Corky Hale - Harp (tracks 21-24)

Ed Lustgarten, Ray Kramer, Eleanor Slatkin, Kurt Reher - Cello (tracks 21-24)

Johnny Mandel, Marty Paich, Frank Campo - Arrangements (tracks 21-24)

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