Chet Baker In New York – Craft Recordings 

by | Mar 5, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Chet Baker In New York – Riverside Records RLP 1119 (1959)/Craft Recordings (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 51:28 *****:

(Chet Baker – trumpet; Johnny Griffin – tenor saxophone; Al Haig – piano; Paul Chambers – double bass; Philly Joe Jones – drums)

Trumpeter Chet Baker is strongly associated with West Coast Jazz. He first gained attention as a member of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in the early 1950’s. Baker’s style was to play in counterpoint to Mulligan, rather than the typical unison approach of this era. He eventually fronted his own ensembles, that including his relaxed vocals on standards. The association with  “My Funny Valentine” would last throughout his career. His later output would encompass straight ahead jazz, but a significant part of this legacy would be anchored by the West Coast sound. Like others, his drug addiction was overwhelming, yet he continued to navigate jazz stardom. With a natural ease, Baker’s organic approach to music expanded his popularity. While he recorded with several labels over four decades, his prolific stint (7 albums in just over two years) with Riverside was among his definitive musical accomplishments.

Craft Recordings has released a four-album vinyl retrospective. Included is the classic Chet Baker In New York. This `180-gram re-mastered vinyl (and first in the four-part series) is a stellar quintet (featuring Johnny Griffin/tenor saxophone; Al Haig/piano; Paul Chambers/double bass; and Philly Joe Jones/drums). Side 1 opens with medium swing on Bennie Golson’s “Fair Weather”. After a concise harmony sax/trumpet intro, Baker offers a gliding solo run, propelled by the tough drumming of Jones (Miles Davis). Chambers (also a Davis veteran) follows with his typical nimble double bass before turning it over to Johnny Griffin (Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey) on tenor. Griffin injects soulful verve and edginess emphasizing the coherent utilization of all band members. Haig sparkles on piano and keeps the energy up. Baker and Griffin join in a wonderful counterpoint to close the number. Fans of the classic Baker ballad melancholy will be enthralled by “Polka Dots And Moonbeams”. This is truly a jazz standard for the ages that included versions by Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan and Dexter Gordon. Baker’s relaxed delivery is augmented by his fluid notation. It showcases the essence of Baker as a keen interpreter of material. His deliberate articulation is engaging and commands the listener’s attention. Haig’s gossamer piano embraces the melody with matching nuance. Changing course once more, Owen Marshall’s “Hotel 49” is bop at its swinging best. This features Griffin’s liveliest soloing. spurred on by the fury of Jones and Chambers. Their inspired playing is electrifying. Haig follows in a tempo-driven performance with bluesy swagger. Baker steps in and manages to intermingle jazz freneticism and lyrical exploration. Chambers’ bowed double bass is a nice touch, and the raucous Philly Joe Jones puts an exclamation point on this jam.

In 1959, Miles Davis was the face of jazz. It’s not surprising that any trumpet player would cover his material. The quintet crystallizes the multi-faceted elements of cool jazz as Baker embraces the different, colorful shades of this composition (“Solar”). Haig, Chambers and Jones (with brilliant drum fills) frame the trumpet with syncopated timing that accentuate the exotic imagery. The inherent chemistry and individual gravitas of the instrumentalists is palpable. On a second Golson opus (“Blue Thoughts”), Baker and Griffin blend in harmonic aesthetics. Chet’s articulate fluent approach is captivating. Griffin’s solo is smoky and full-bodied. Chambers shines on another solo before the counterpoint ending. Chet Baker In New York is a diverse musical tapestry. The finale (“When Lights Are Low”) is swing-infused, but with restrained execution. Baker’s exquisite timing and relatively vibrato-free tonality bring an air of refinement. The band follows closely and never loses the inherent dynamics of the session.

The cool jazz movement redefined jazz. Chet Baker In New York is among the hallmark recordings of this era. The overall quality of the source material engineering is excellent. There is explicit stereo separation and the instrumental layers are rendered with pristine clarity. This re-mastered vinyl is a superior analog recording, and a must for any jazz collection!  

Side 1: Fair Weather; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Hotel #9
Side 2: Solar; Blue Thoughts; When Lights Are Low  

—Robbie Gerson

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