Despite its muddy sound quality,Live in Europe 1956 is a stellar Chet Baker recording made in Florence, Italy, with talented European sidemen, including Jean-Louis Chautemps on tenor saxophone, Francy Boland on piano, Eddie De Haas on bass, and Charles Saudrais on drums. Recorded a few months after the death of new sideman and rising jazz pianist Dick Twardzick from a heroin overdose, the album shows little evidence of Baker's own addiction. Twardzick's demise threatened to end the tour, but the trumpeter continued to perform many concerts like the one heard here. The set begins with a haunting vocal version of "This Is Always," a standard not often performed by Baker and a must-hear for aficionados. Some technical trumpet "fracks," as they are known, do little to mar his solo on the tune, and instead showcase the artist's graceful ability to turn a mistake into a beautiful line. Ray Brown's up-tempo bop standard "Ray's Idea" continues the set, allowing Baker to prove he can lay down bop lines with the best of them and still sound devastatingly melodic. At the end of the concert you hear him address the crowd in his characteristic boy-next-door voice, belying the dark and tragic elements that would soon propel him into obscurity. Live in Europe 1956 (also available as Cool Way to Florence on Oscar Records) is a melancholy time capsule which evokes images of Baker as the stylish, talented, and self-destructive cover boy he was during the '50s.
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