Chet Baker – Chet – Craft Recordings

by | May 18, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Chet Baker – Chet – Riverside Records (1959)/Craft Recordings CR00359 (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 41:48 *****:

(Chet Baker – trumpet; Herbie Mann – flute; Pepper Adams – baritone saxophone; Bill Evans – piano; Paul Chambers – double bass; Connie Kay – drums Philly Joe Jones – drums; Kenny Burrell – guitar

Post-WWII jazz was noted for the transformative shift to cool jazz. In lieu of the intense, high-octane bebop dynamic, a more straightforward, reserved sound with restrained tempos prevailed. Among the players who embraced this style were Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, George Shearing and Chet Baker. Many of the trumpeters in this movement were influenced by cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. West Coast jazz was another product of the new movement. One of the breakout jazz stars of this emerging scene was Chet Baker. Dubbed “The Prince Of Cool”, he rode an early career wave that included a prolific musical catalog and occasional movie roles. Baker hit his stride with Riverside Records. In under two years, he released 6 albums that defined his mystique.

Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the quintessential 1959 Riverside album, Chet. With a legendary ensemble of jazz greats (Herbie Mann/flute; Pepper Adams/baritone sax; Bill Evans/piano; Paul Chambers/double bass; Connie Kay and Philly Joe Jones/drums), this trademark laid-back articulation of modern jazz is executed flawlessly. Future guitar legend Kenny Burrell also makes two appearances. Side 1 opens with the  standard, “Alone Together”. Baker’s gossamer horn caresses the medley. Pepper Adams takes a solo that is mellow and soulful. The earthier tonality expands the sound. Then Herbie Mann takes over as Baker and Adams counter. This trio of horn and reed float in and out. There is a hint of tempo uptick. Another Broadway tune, “How High The Moon” distills the melodic essence into a gentle flow. Mann and Evans deliver restrained solos, but never take the spotlight away from the trumpeter. There are moments of harmony that are subtle and compelling. Rodgers and Hart’s gem, “It Never Entered My Mind” (which had also been recorded by Miles Davis) is rendered with a winsome touch. This arrangement is pared down to a quartet with Kenny Burrell adding perfectly timed phrasing. One of Baker’s signatures is his rendition of “’Tis Autumn”. With Adams and Mann injecting counterpoint, it is lyrical and moving. Adams’ baritone infuses a muscular touch, but is dialed back to reflect the musical template.

Side Two extends the relaxed vibe. “If You Could See Me Know” (one of Sarah Vaughan’s finest songs) has Baker, Adams and Mann interacting (especially in harmonic counterpoint) with rich texture and finesse. Baker’s deliberate touch is inspiring, and Adams’ brief run is impeccable in its shading. Burrell’s opening to the beloved “September Song” is great. His chemistry with Baker is palpable. On the chorus, the trumpet slides down an octave Taking on Cole Porter’s engaging “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, the slower breezy tempo is hypnotic. Mann and Adams solo with graceful moodiness. Evans lends a deft touch on his brief solo. The arrangement is different from the other jazz covers. Baker’s exacting instrumental finesse is showcased on “Time On My Hands”. This one is arranged for quartet (trumpet, piano, double bass and drums). Chambers gets a rare opportunity to solo. There is a memorable chord-modulated finish. Chambers’ bowed double bass (which opens and closes the number)  adds a different feel to “You And The Night And The Music”. Baker explores the hushed melancholy of the composition, and the slight tempo adjustments grab the listener’s attention.

Chet, simply put is timeless jazz. This Craft Recordings vinyl should be an essential part of every jazz collection!

Side 1: Alone Together; How High The Moon; It Never Entered My Mind; ’Tis Autumn
Side 2: If You Could See Me Now; September Song; You’d be So Nice To Come Home To; Time On My Hands;  You And The Night And The Music. 

—Robbie Gerson

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