Chet Baker – Lost Tapes – Early Chet/ Chet Baker In Germany 1955-1959 – Jazz Haus/SWR Music 101728, 35:38 (Distr. by Naxos) re-mastered 180-gram mono vinyl [10/29/2013] *****:
(Chet Baker – trumpet; Caterina Valente – guitar, vocals; Dick Twardzik – piano; Jimmy Bond – bass; Peter Littman – drums; Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra; Tanzorchestra des Sudwestfunks/ Rolf-Hans Muller)
Chet Baker emerged from a meager beginning in Oklahoma to become a staple of bop jazz. After a couple of army stints, he played with Stan Getz in San Francisco. But in 1951 he gained major status as a member of Charlie Parker’s group. He distinguished himself in the wild, jazz scene by his melody-driven, harmonious trumpet. But it was the compelling work with The Gerry Mulligan Quartet that vaulted Baker into stardom. Their version of “My Funny Valentine” remains one of the most beloved jazz tracks of all time. Baker’s contrapuntal shading (rather than unison) was a departure from the existing disciplines and made the song memorable.
Baker’s ferocious drug habit wreaked havoc with his musical career. More alarming to jazz purists was his relentless desire to sing. Several of his solo recordings featured his vocals. He was strongly associated with West Coast jazz. Despite personal demons, he performed and recorded (sporadically) for the next three decades. His death in 1987 (apparently a drug-induced fall from a second story hotel window in Amsterdam) was tragic, though not a shock to many.
Jazz Haus has released a re-mastered group of “lost” sessions, titled Lost Tapes Early Chet Baker/Chet Baker In Germany 1955–1959. Recorded in Germany, the tapes were engineered to vinyl (a perfect fit), Baker is clearly in a productive musical groove. Opening Side A (backed by a big band, as on most of the album), he comes out flying on Benny Goodman’s “Lullaby In Rhythm”. The arrangement has all of the precision and crispness of a large ensemble, but Baker’s “cool jazz” licks are exemplary. The next two cuts feature a duet with singer Caterina Valente. The first is a South American take on “I’ll Remember April”. Valente provides a hushed vocal (not unusual for the bossa nova era) and plays rhythm guitar. Baker (who does no singing here) complements her with fluidity and never overshadows the vibe. “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is more effective. This is a bluesy cover of Cole Porter that underscores Baker’s sensitivity to vocalists. Returning to big band “Everything Happens To Me” and “Baker ‘56” benefit from short horn transitions and concise frameworks. This is clearly a trumpeter at his best. The tonality and artistic interpretation are flawless. Additionally the charts are not boring (“It Never Entered My Mind” begins with a sizzling opening before it enters a relaxed cadence.)
Side B erupts on “Bockhanal”. Anchored by propulsive drumming, Baker executes a variety of swing and bop riffs. (It is the only track that features his great pianist at the time, Richard Twardzik, who just a few weeks later died of a drug overdose.) The addition of a string section changes the entire texture. The ballad “I Shouldn’t Care” has a cinematic mixture of reeds (especially flute) and strings. Those weary of piano versions of “Isn’t It Romantic” will appreciate the trumpet interludes that prevent this standard from being overwrought. Baker’s interplay with big band and strings is excellent. On songs like “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” and “Autumn In New York” the shifts and transitions counter the orchestral swells. Behind all of this, Baker’s trumpet is self-assured and colorful.
The re-mastered audiophile vinyl sounds great. There are no shrill tones from the trumpet. The horns and strings are full-bodied but not muddled. Jazz fans can only hope that more of these lost tapes are recovered!
Side A: Lullaby In Rhythm; I’ll Remember April; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Everything Happens To Me; Baker ’56; It Never Entered My Mind
Side B: Bockhanal; I Should Care; Isn’t It Romantic; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Autumn In New York