Chet Baker

Chet Baker in Tokyo

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Like a number of live Chet Baker albums released over the last ten years, this one documents a concert that took place shortly before his tragic death (having recently resumed his drug habit, he fell from a hotel room window in 1988). Unlike most of them, though, this one shows him to have still been in complete control of his musical faculties, playing not just beautifully and well, but with energy and even speed despite his deteriorating health. His singing, too, sounds uncannily like that of the quiet young sex symbol he'd been in the 1950s, before age and heroin ravaged his face and emptied his eyes. Accompanied beautifully by pianist Harold Danko, bassist Hein Van Der Geyn and drummer John Engels, Baker plays a surprisingly varied set, from Jimmy Heath's hard bop standard "For Minors Only" to "Four" by Miles Davis and the delicately anguished "Almost Blue," written for him by Elvis Costello. Here he still plays with the sweet, dry tone that made him famous and helped to define an entire school of West Coast jazz, and sings in a voice remarkably similar to that of his trumpet. Given its context, you can't miss the poignancy of this recording; but the playing is so sweet and happy that it's also impossible to resist the spirit in which these performances were offered -- a spirit which was anything but sad.

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