Chet Baker, finding his audience again, this time in Paris…
Chet Baker – Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings (1983-1984) – Elemental Music/ INA #5990541 – 180 gm audiophile vinyl ( 3 LP) – ****
Record Store Day Release (04/23/22) – Limited to 4000 pressings
(Chet Baker – trumpet & vocals; Michel Graillier – piano; Dominique Lemerle, or Riccardo Del Fra – double bass)
For the next Record Store Day, this month, Elemental Music, is presenting recordings from previously unreleased club engagements in Paris (1983 and 1984) from the Chet Baker Trio (trumpet, bass, and piano). Remastered on 180 gm audiophile vinyl, in ten extended time tracks, it gives evidence that Baker had revitalized his career, and was able to be relaxed and settled, after many years of conflict.
Chet was a survivor, who lead a sometimes brutal life, tortured by a long term addiction to heroin, with resulting periods of incarceration. Baker came up in the late 1940s, and had a checkered career, but was having a renaissance in the last ten years of his life, before dying in mysterious terms in Amsterdam in May, 1988, after supposedly falling from a second story hotel room.
When Baker came on the scene in California at around twenty years old, he had matinee idol looks, a soft feathery voice, and possessed a round warm trumpet tone. He epitomized the “cool” period of jazz that found a home on the West Coast. Touring with baritone sax legend, Gerry Mulligan, Chet made an immediate impression. He did not read music charts, but had an innate ability after hearing a song just a few times, to be able to improvise over its changes.
Throughout the early 1950s, Baker became very popular, even beating out Clifford Brown and Miles Davis in Readers polls of Metronome and Downbeat magazines. Jazz critics were mixed in their opinions of Baker, but his winning looks, winsome singing voice, and earned “bad boy” persona made him a public favorite.
However, heroin became his nemesis, and he was soon in and out of jail due to his drug habit. The 1960s became a period in which Chet struggled with comebacks. He was beaten by drug dealers in Los Angeles in 1966, and had his teeth knocked out. Baker had to have major dental work to regain his embouchure.
It was in the 1970s that Chet rebuilt his career, largely in Europe. Jazz had fallen out of favor in the United States, as rock, disco, and other genres took over. Jazz artists found an appreciative audience in Europe, and Chet found acceptance there.
Baker loved playing in a drummer less group, as he felt that his abilities were highlighted by not having the strong presence of a drummer dominating his strengths of lyricism and melody in a quieter setting. A bassist and pianist was his preferred format.
That’s where we find Chet in these recordings. On three LPs, Baker is backed by European piano stalwart, Michel Graillier, on both dates. Dominique Lemerle is on bass on the June 17, 1983 date, while Riccardo Del Fra is found on the Feb.7, 1984 session.
Both are dependable and steady, and given lots of solo time. Graillier, on piano, is a real discovery, and was heavily influenced by McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. He can be adventurous, when needed (Tyner) or sublime (Evans), on ballads.
Most tracks are in the fifteen minute range, leaving plenty of time for Chet’s innate ability to use “time and space” to set the mood for his audience to both relax and reflect.
His voice still had the delicate phrasing that won him fans in the 1950s, while his warm lyrical timbre had the ability to charm. That winning quality belied the ravages that had caused him to look dramatically different from his movie star visage in the 50s.
Highlights are many and include “There Will Never Be Another You,” where Chet’s scat singing is featured. “Easy Living” lets both bass and piano shine, while Baker emotes on his horn. I dug Hank Mobley’s “Funk in Deep Freeze,” which retains Mobley’s soul jazz vibe. “Just Friends” finds Chet’s “whispered” vocals, and extended mid range horn in a winning fashion.
Devoted fans of Chet Baker will find these newly discovered tracks enticing, as Chet had regained his strengths, and his adoring Parisian audience had the chance to see a flawed living legend rise like a phoenix to inspire again…
Side A: There Will Never Be Another You, Easy Living
Side B: But Not For Me, Stella By Starlight
Side C: Funk in Deep Freeze, Just Friends
Side D: Arbor Way
Side E: Strollin, Margerine
Side F: Lament, Walkin’