Orrin Keepnews doesn't get enough credit for the Chet Baker albums he produced on Riverside. In all, Orrin recorded five albums with the trumpeter in 1958 and '59—Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen to You, Chet Baker in New York, Chet Baker Introduces Johnny Pate, The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker and Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Loewe. Then in August 1959, Baker went off to Europe, which really was the beginning of the end for him. Between drugs, time spent in an Italian prison and a harrowing gigging schedule after, he became a victim of his own weaknesses, enabled by fans, doctors and everyone else who wanted him to feel good. [Photo above of Chet Baker in New York's Times Square in 1958]
By the time Baker returned to the States in the spring of 1964, the youth culture had moved on. Baker's Brylcreem look was passe, his instrument was dated—replaced by the electric guitar—and the pained romantic persona he embodied no longer had currency or appeal. Young in '64 meant upbeat, alive, excited and bursting with energy, not brooding, hurt and dour.
Hence, I'm not sure that Baker's recordings ever exceeded the ones he made for Orrin, particularly Chet: The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker. Recorded on Dec. 30, 1958 and Jan. 19, 1959, the album featured the perfect combination of simpatico players: Chet Baker (tp), Herbie Mann (fl), Pepper Adams (bar), Bill Evans (p), Kenny Burrell (g), Paul Chambers (b) and Connie Kay (d), with Philly Joe Jones in for Kay on the January session.
Baker and Evans together are a fascinating pair, a joining of two introspective souls. We hear Evans alone during introductions and solos taken on several tracks. Then add Adams' baritone for gruff depth and the lyrical joy of Mann's flute and you have pure bliss. [Photo above of Bill Evans in 1958]
Best of all, the album's tracks are taken at heartbeat pace, giving Baker plenty of space to find the most beautiful notes to phrase on his horn. As a counterpoint, Adams' baritone is big but tender, which is rare for his signature bossy attack. As if that wasn't enough, you also have Baker and Kenny Burrell together on September Song. [Photo above of Pepper Adams]
After listening to Chet: The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker about a dozen times yesterday, I have to say it has easily become my favorite Baker recording and the finest Baker ensemble thanks to Orrin's good taste and judgment.
JazzWax tracks: I was rather surprised to find that Chet: The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker isn't available as a download. You'll find the album in other formats here and here.
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