Chet Baker – Chet Baker and Strings – Columbia/Pure Pleasure

by | Oct 10, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Chet Baker – Chet Baker and Strings – Columbia CL549/ PurePleasure PPAN CL549 – 180-gm vinyl LP, Mono (Dec. 30-31, 1953) ***½:
(Chet Baker, trumpet; Zoot Sims, tenor sax; Jack Montrose, tenor sax; Bud Shank, alto sax and flute(?); Russ Freeman, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass; Shelly Manne, drums)
At only age 24, Chet Baker, was already a star when he was rewarded with a end of the year present- a recording session with an all-star West Cost roster of musicians, backed up by a nine-piece string section. To seal its chances of success, Chet was provided with the arrangements of Johnny Mandel, Marty Paich, Jack Montrose, and Shorty Rogers. Blessed with matinee idol looks (at that time), and a unique soft vocal ability, Chet had the whole package and Columbia recognized he was deserving of special treatment.
PurePleasure Records from England, who specialize in audiophile LP remastering, have 58 years later released this “with strings” LP and turned the remastering duties over to their ace, Ray Staff at Air Mastering in London.
Jazz with strings albums go back to Charlie Parker. Jazz trumpeters and saxophonists have always wanted the prestige and opportunity to highlight their craft by recording with a full string section or orchestra. There have been times when either the string arrangements are too saccharine or overwhelm the star soloist. It takes the skills of a gifted arranger to balance the string ambience with the horn players.
Chet Baker’s arrangers have mostly done the trick here. Chet is upfront like the soloist should be, and the arrangements swing lightly in a classic 1950s West Coast jazz manner. There are times, however, in which the strings take on too much weight to the detriment of the jazz musicians.
Russ Freeman gets his space to solo on “I’m Through With Love.” Baker and Zoot Sims blend effortlessly on “Love Walked In” before Chet takes solo center stage and the other horns back ably.
“You Better Go Now” opens with the string section setting a gentle mood before Chet’s lyrical trumpet enters. Jack Montrose’s arrangement takes full advantage of the string players’ talents on this song. Marty Paich’s arrangement for “I Married an Angel” is a tour de force and Chet’s silky tone makes this composition super romantic. Johnny Mandel, who is still going strong today, blends the strings as effective as on any track on “Love.” Russ Freeman has a string solo mid song.
Side 2 opens with “I Love You” (six of the twelve tracks have “love” in their titles!), and Chet and a tenor saxist (Zoot or Jack?) solo. “What a Diff’rence a Day Made,” arranged by West Coast legend, trumpeter Shorty Rogers, has the familiar melody played in a bit of counterpoint between the horns and strings. Shorty also tackles “Why Shouldn’t I” and here, unfortunately, the strings tend to overwhelm before the saxophone solo.
“A Little Duet,” between Chet and Zoot, was composed by Jack Montrose and is a welcome relief for jazz lovers as the two jazz men take over, leaving the strings to a more supporting role. The Mandel-arranged, “The Wind” sounds like it would have fit well in a film soundtrack, and has a gorgeous violin solo. It became a later staple for Chet. The tongue twisting title, “Trickleydiddlier” was composed by Shorty Rogers, and closes out the original LP with a swinging West Coast feel.
Bonus tracks of alternate takes of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” You Better Go Now,” and “A Little Duet” were added to the original CD issue in 1998 and also appear here.
It appears to me that Bud Shank is playing the flute that is heard on tracks of the LP, but it is not given proper mention in the liner notes.
There are better “with strings” jazz LPs, but given allowance for the date of this recording, the quality of the arrangements, plus Chet’s lyrical trumpet, fans of Chet Baker have reason to check out this audiophile LP. Thanks to the handiwork of PurePleasure Records, they can now hear what the original mono recording should have sounded like back in 1953.
TrackList: Side 1:
You Don’t Know What Love Is, I’m Through With Love, Love Walked In, You Better Go Now, I Married an Angel, Love, You Don’t Know What Love Is (alt take), You Better Go Now (alt take)
Side 2:
I Love You, What a Diff’rence a Day Made, Why Shouldn’t I, A Little Duet, The Wind, Trickleydidlier,  A Little Duet (alt take)
—Jeff Krow

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