Jazz archive label releases newly discovered studio sessions of Chet Baker.
Chet Baker – Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions In Holland – Jazz Detective/Elemental Music DDJD-007 limited edition 180-gram double stereo 2023 Record Store Day [4/22/2023], 90:20 ***1/2:
(Chet Baker – trumpet, vocals; Phil Markowitz – piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse – double bass; Charles Rice – drums; Frank Elsen – piano; Victor Kaihatu – double bass; Eric Ineke – drums)
While much has been made of Chet Baker’s personal lifestyle challenges, his playing over the years has been very consistent. In the year before his untimely death, he participated in ten sessions. Jazz archivist Zev Feldman and his team have uncovered two previously unissued studio recordings from the KRO-NCRV archives.These two sessions in Netherland (VARA Studio 2/Hilversum) are excellent. On the first of the Vara Studio sessions, the trumpeter is joined by Phil Markowitz (piano), Jean-Louis Rassinfosse (double bass) and Charles Rice (drums) on three of the four vinyl sides. Blue Room kicks off with a Wayne Shorter composition, “Beautiful Black Eyes”, Baker and the quartet establish a medium tempo with nuanced interaction. Baker’s limited vibrato tenderly caresses the melody while the rhythm section lays down a Latin-infused groove. There is a flowing vibe in the trumpet play, with interesting chord changes and tempo shifts that add texture. Markowitz shines on his extended lyrical solo. Baker’s final solo is lively and fits in with the jaunty vibe. The Burke/Van Heusen pop standard (covered by Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Peggy Lee), “Oh You Crazy Moon” showcases Baker’s signature reedy vocals. The arrangement captures a delicate, swaying melancholy, and as a singer, Chet reflects the heartfelt sentiment. But his instrumental gravitas steals the show. Irving Berlin’s 1950 Broadway tear-jerker, “The Best Thing For You” is reinvented as a straight-ahead celebration with pronounced swing aesthetics. Here, the quartet is at their apex with Markowitz’s forceful approach, a lithe double bass solo and assorted drum fills.
Side B kicks off with the title cut. This is a relatively obscure Rodgers/Hart show tune from 1928. In Baker’s capable hand, the quartet distills the relaxed feeling and transforms it into a sultry performance. His opening trumpet run captures the low-keyed approach and gossamer resonance. His notation is articulate. Markowitz adds a reticent, bluesy solo, and the double bass and drums maintain an innate pulse. On the first of two Miles Davis’ compositions (“Down”), Baker infuses a finger-snapping, agile grace that envelops the melody. His tonality glows with warmth and texture. Side C also has two cuts. In the lone original (“Blue Gilles”), Baker’s intro creates a winsome, airy reverie. His play is evocative with a faint studio echo and enhances the haunting motifs. Markowitz shares the atmospheric landscape with his adroit, understated runs. It is quintessential Chet Baker. On their final track, the quartet pay bona fide homage to Miles on “Nardis”. After a brooding opening, the ensemble shifts into classic medium swing. This arrangement is a throwback to the golden age of “modern cool”. Baker’s timing is reminiscent of classic Davis. The final side includes Frank Eisen (piano), Victor Kaihatu (double bass) and Eric Ineke (drums), recorded six month later. Baker returns as vocalist on the perennial standard, “Candy” After a chord-modulated piano opening, there are breezy, carefree vocals and a “scat” solo. The new quartet has chemistry and sustains the loping finesse of this number. “Luscious Lou” takes a decidedly bluesy turn. There are catchy vamps in this “down ’n’ dirty” translation. “My Ideal” is nuanced balladry in a hushed environment with drum brushes and meditative piano. The finale (“Old Devil Moon”) is special. Baker eschews singing for his most passionate, urgent instrumental performance. His notation is punctuated and soars with energy.
Chet Baker – Blue Room; The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions In Holland is a welcome addition to the legacy of Chet Baker. The re-mastered vinyl by Bernie Grundman is superior with crisp tonality and good stereo separation. There is a full-sized booklet with vintage black & white photographs, essays, analysis of the individual tracks and interviews with contemporary jazz artists (Enrico Rava, Randy Brecker and Enrico Pieranunzi). Of course, the team at Jazz Detective/Elemental Music has produced this “previously unreleased” album with the full cooperation of the Baker estate. Jazz fans will be delighted by this limited edition (5,000) 2023 Record Store Day release.
Chet Baker – Blue Room
Side A: Beautiful Black Eyes; Oh! You Crazy Moon; The Best Thing For You
Side B: Blue Room; Down
Side C: Blue Gilles; Nardis
Side D: Candy; Luscious Lou; My Ideal; Old Devil Moon.
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