Chet Baker Plays The Best Of Lerner And Loewe – Riverside Records RLP 12-37 (1959)/Craft Recordings CR00360 (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 43:02 ****1/2:
(Chet Baker – trumpet; Herbie Mann – flute, tenor saxophone; Zoot Sims – alto saxophone; tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams – baritone saxophone; Bill Evans – piano; Bob Corwin – piano; Earl May – double bass; Clifford James – drums)
The concept of adapting Broadway musicals to jazz arrangement is part of history. For decades, jazz players have explored improvisational translations of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Lorenzo Hart and Leonard Bernstein. Stan Kenton and Oscar Peterson revisited most of the West Side Story on successful albums. Whether it’s Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Bill Evans, the opportunity of bringing new life to standards is jazz tradition. In that regard, Craft Recordings has re-mastered Chet Baker Plays The Best Of Lerner And Loewe to 180-gram vinyl. As part of a four-album retrospective of Baker’s Riverside catalog, the tribute to Lerner and Loewe features tunes from different musicals with a generous helping of the beloved My Fair Lady. With a brilliant group of session players (Herbie Mann/flute; Zoot Sims/tenor, alto saxophone; Bill Evans/piano; Bob Corwin/piano; Pepper Adams/baritone saxophone; Earl May/double bass and Clifford Jarvis/drums) Baker’s laid-back West Coast (but recorded in New York) musical vision is augmented.
Side 1 opens with a pair of all-time classics from My Fair Lady. The whimsical emotion of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” is unadulterated jazz balladry. Baker’s deliberate pacing and exquisite notation anchor the arrangement. There are compelling harmonic aesthetics with tenor (Sims) and baritone (Adams). The concise soloing adds considerable texture and shading. In a change of pace, “I Could Have Danced All Night” executes a medium-swing 3/4 time signature. Herbie Mann’s distinctive flute adds a breezy countenance to the jam. Baker manages to intermingle his “blue” tonality and Bill Evans’ piano solo is delicate precision. When trumpet, flue and tenor combine in a brief interlude, it is fully intehrated. In the first of two compositions from Brigadoon, “The Heather On The Hill” captures the mystical aura of the unconventional play. Baker’s sentimental resonance pervades the song and Mann’s ethereal solo (with a slight counterpoint by Sims) is ear-catching. Inevitably, Baker’s erudite notation is revelatory. Touches like a short piano trio run (Bob Corwin on piano) and harmonious reed/horn counterpoint is hypnotic. Returning to My Fair Lady (“On The Street Where You Live”), Baker and Sims are mesmerizing as they combine and follow each other with consummate ease. This dynamic brings a melodic essence to the romantic context. Baker’s solo is among his best, rolling with adroit technique and mood.
Picking up the pace, “Almost Like Being In Love” swings. The lively double bass sustains the momentum. Baker injects himself into the up tempo with exacting timing. Sims percolates on tenor and Adams adds muscular baritone, transforming this number into crisp traditional jazz language. The group remains faithful to Gigi’s amiable “Thank Heaven For Little Girls”. Again Baker and Sims play off each other methodically, and Bill Evans contributes an erudite solo while keeping the rhythm section cohesive. In trademark Baker graceful nuances, “I Talk To The Trees” (from Paint Your Wagon) sets a mellow tone. Both Sims and Mann equally caress the haunting melody and Evans’ eloquence comes through on a very short solo. Again, the counter interactions with trumpet and saxophone are glowing. The finale (“Show Me”) adds some larger ensemble energy. Mann percolates, aided by a galloping double bass and drum cymbals. Then, Adams keeps the heat on with baritone, before handing over to Zoot for a rousing solo. Baker and Evans are both jubilant. After a well-timed drum fill, the all-star combo bring this swinger to a close.
Craft Recordings has done an outstanding job in re-introducing these essential Riverside recordings. Chet Baker Plays The Best Of Lerner And Loewe is a living historical document of Chet Baker’s influence on jazz. The re-mastered vinyl sounds great, with a balanced mix and the late 50’s state-of-the-art (the liner notes have some interesting technical information) analog stereo engineering. Baker’s trumpet is rendered in warm tones and the layering of reed instruments is meticulous.
Side 1: I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face; I Could Have Danced All Night; The Heather On The Hill; On The Street Where You Live
Side 2: Almost Like Being In Love; Thank Heaven For Little Girls; I Talk To The Trees; Show Me
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