Wolfgang Lackerschmid & Chet Baker – Ballads for Two – Dot Time Records #DT8556 – Jan. 1979 –
Side A: 19:58 / Side B: 20:32 – ***1/2
(Wolfgang Lackerschmid – vibes and percussion; Chet Baker: trumpet)
Jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker’s life story, is one of incredible highs and lows. Blessed with movie star looks, and a voice as gentle as his heartfelt lyrical trumpet tone, Chet came up during the West Coast cool jazz period of the 1950s. He fit in perfectly during the laid back LA based “scene” and became popular, even winning a Downbeat poll as Best Trumpeter, a feat that irked East Coast based trumpeters, especially Miles Davis.
However, by the late 1950s, Baker became attracted to heroin, which became an issue for him for the rest of his life. Over the years, his addiction caused major issues for his trumpet playing, as well as his singing prowess. Chet found a safer haven in Europe, and spent the majority of his life there, before passing away in Amsterdam, Holland in 1988.
Baker kept his popularity in Europe, and found a strong audience for his life story, with the continent’s jazz musicians, eager to both play and record with an artist of his stature, even when he was just a shadow of his prior talents. His late career output was uneven, but he could still rise to the occasion when he was in good health and inspired.
Such was the case in January, 1979, when he recorded in Stuttgart, with German vibraphonist, Wolfgang Lackerschmid. Chet was quite interested in recording with Lackerschmid, when he found out that Wolfgang had written material for trumpet and vibes. The two hit it off after playing with their own groupings at a festival in Munich, and decided to go into the studio for a session of three standards, and five compositions written especially for the duo by Wolfgang.
The results are largely positive, and have been reissued recently by the boutique jazz label, Dot Time Records for their Legends series. Limited to 500 copies, the mixing and remastering is first rate. The vibes are sharp in the mix, and both the strengths and occasional weaknesses of Baker’s trumpet playing are on full display. Chet’s tone and power were diminished at the that stage of his career, but his lyrical heart on its sleeve emotion can still move the listener. The feathery tone, and caress of the melody still shine, especially on the middle register ballads.
The use of induced reverb on “Five Years Ago” misses the mark, while “Why Shouldn’t You Cry” and the standard, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” provide the pathos and beauty that Baker helps signify.
Side B has more winners. They include the classic “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” where Wolfgang’s Milt Jackson-like response to Baker’s lines is a winning combination. “Waltz for Susan” is a romantic excursion with strong hints of a younger Baker verve.
The best track on this album is “Double O.” It’s a modal piece that brought me memories of Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” album, with percolating rhythms and staccato lines mid tune. The improvisation is striking, and Chet comes alive, clearly enjoying the journey.
Chet Baker completists will find lots to like here, and Wolfgang Lackershmid’s vibes talents make a winning combination for this trumpet/vibes experiment. It’s gentle vibe makes a nice change of pace now in our challenging present environment.
Five Years Ago
Why Shouldn’t You Cry
You Don’t Know What Love Is
Softly As In a Morning Sunrise
Waltz for Susan
Why Shouldn’t You Cry (muted trumpet version)
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