Chet Baker

Chet Baker Plays

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This long player is distinctive for several non-musical reasons. For starters, 1959's Chet Baker Plays (aka Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Loewe) is the final platter he would record prior to an extended relocation to Europe several months later. It is also the last of the stateside platters issued during his brief association with Riverside Records, a label synonymous with West Coast cool. The eight tracks center on the show tunes of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe -- who were concurrently among the hottest teams on the Broadway stage -- with half of the material from the score of My Fair Lady (1956). The idea was probably sparked by the unprecedented success of the Shelly Manne (drums) combo, whose own version of My Fair Lady (1956) became one of the best-selling jazz releases of the day. While this is not Baker's most profound collection, he leads the assembled personnel through some memorable and emotive readings of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "On the Street Where You Live," the latter being one of the highlights of the entire affair. It demonstrates Baker's inimitable penchant for dark torch ballads. The rhythm section of Earl May (bass) and Clifford Jarvis (drums) takes the time to unravel behind the soloists, most notably Herbie Mann (flute). Both "The Heather on the Hill" and "Almost Like Being in Love" are from Brigadoon (1947) and in the case of the latter, the freewheeling melody is eased along by Baker's seemingly offhand solos, which are once again countered by Mann, who sports a tenor sax on this performance. Other seminal inclusions are the sultry "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from Gigi (1958) and, saving the best for last, "I Talk to the Trees." This cut rates at the pinnacle of Baker's late-'50s sides, as the languid tempo draws out some of his most starkly sincere tones.

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