Chet's 1958 set is masterful, if a little too safe...
Charles De Ledesma 2007-08-31
Founder of jazz label Riverside Records, Orrin Keepnews reflects in the sleeve notes to this reissue that he had managed to keep Chet Baker’s vocals off this 1958 set, Chet. Already a heavy drug user, Baker’s vocals at this period we known to be often awry, but, on the evidence here, his trumpet playing was a little less than masterful too.
Baker specialised in ballads, mostly straight-ahead renditions of evergreen tunes by the likes of Tin Pan Alley writers Rodgers/Hart and Cole Porter. But where some of his contemporaries would improvise around the melodies adding their own trademark flourishes and modal lines, Baker’s approach was more linear, often truthful to the original, but perhaps lacking the chutzpah which, arguably, defines a great jazz sensibility.
Baker rose to prominence six few years before the release of Chet when he joined the Gerry Mulligan Quarter, and found almost instant fame on a recording of "My Funny Valentine", where he played a warm, lyrical and emotional solo. Here on Chet the trumpet lines seem tired, over-slow and, at times, almost off-key.
The set is saved somewhat by performances from sidemen Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, Herbie Mann on flute and Bill Evans on piano. Indeed, on the opener "Alone Together" Adams’ intimate warm and lush work sparks the tune.
There are certainly moments of melancholy frisson on Chet, but for much of the time we find a great trumpeter playing it just too safe.