Chet Baker

Best of Chet Baker [Riverside]

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Chet Baker was both much more and less than his "Golden Boy of West Coast Cool Jazz" title implicated. A fabulous trumpeter able to play swift bebop, sweet seductive ballads, and sing in a unique fashion, his musical ability was all substance and stylistically valid. Unfortunately acute addiction to drugs sent Baker on a steady downward spiral throughout his blues strewn, weary life. This collection of 15 tracks for the Riverside label from 1952 to 1959 is chronologically ordered and parsed in sections, featuring similar bands for a handful of cuts at a time by producer/compiler/liner notes author Orrin Keepnews. This concept of flow and progression gives the listener a good idea of what a young Baker was all about during this decade, ranging from work with Gerry Mulligan, the Kenny Drew trio, three vocal selections, work with Johnny Griffin, Al Haig, Bill Evans, larger groups with Pepper Adams, Herbie Mann, and Zoot Sims, and a fine small band with Kenny Burrell. Though far from comprehensive, this collection represents excellence and variety. A maudlin "My Funny Valentine" would be a song Baker would vocalize on prolifically, but here it's an instrumental live at the Black Hawk with Mulligan and featuring the underrated bassist Carson Smith. A studio take of "Moonlight in Vermont" with the same quartet sports a wonderful counter melody from the baritone sax legend. Three cuts with Baker singing alongside Drew's trio point to a strained vocal on "The More I See You," displays a neat calypso-to-swing take of "Old Devil Moon," and finishes with the doting novelty tune "Do It the Right Way." Baker and Griffin with Al Haig, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones prove a most dynamic quintet on Benny Golson's precious hard bopper "Fair Weather" as well as a classic version of the Miles Davis cool bopper "Solar," with modal Latin add-ons. Bill Evans in 1958 was newly established with the Davis ensemble, but is here with Adams and Mann in late on the ballad "If You Could See Me Now," while Zoot Sims joins for the serene "I Talk to the Trees." Sims and Evans support the band under Baker's lead on the easy cool of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." The two features for Burrell sans a pianist show the fully languid and introspective partnership he and Baker briefly shared on "It Never Entered My Mind" and "September Song." While full titles such as Chet Baker in New York, New Blue Horns, and Chet are desirable full-length albums to seek, this is a good primer in discovering the roots and budding branches of a jazz legend.