The Complete Pacific Jazz Live Recordings of Chet Baker with Russ Freeman

Chet Baker

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The Complete Pacific Jazz Live Recordings of Chet Baker with Russ Freeman Review

by Lindsay Planer

The independent jazz reissue label Mosaic Records garnered a rightful reputation as industry leaders and enthusiast favorites with deluxe and strictly limited-edition packages such as this one. The contents of this four-LP/three-CD collection are derived from two performances during the summer of 1954 and feature the Chet Baker Quartet: Baker (trumpet/"boom bam" percussion), Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass), and Bob Neel (drums). The two performances -- recorded July 21 at Santa Cruz's Civic Auditorium and August 10 at The Tiffany Club in Los Angeles, respectively -- are presented chronologically. The five tunes from the July set were documented by Pacific Jazz renaissance man Dick Bock using primitive portable open-reel (aka reel-to-reel) technology. Despite a few inherent tape anomalies, the amazingly rich sound rivals that of many studio releases of the same era. Unleashed from within Baker's normally reserved tone is an aggressive display of high energy and remarkably fluid bop chops on Charlie "Bird" Parker's "Billie's Bounce." The unfettered repartee between Baker and Freeman is likewise a highlight, as the two are able to augment and parlay melodies into minor works of expressionistic art. Even the decidedly cooler-toned "Stella by Starlight" and "Line for Lyons" contain fiery exchanges between the two. The Tiffany Club performance is decidedly lengthier and is joined already in progress. These August 10 performances capture the Chet Baker Quartet five nights into a run that extended over six weeks. For reasons which are unclear, this 90-plus-minutes of primal, live Baker Quartet remained for the most part unissued for well over three decades. Only edited versions of "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" and the Freeman composition "Russ Job" were ever accessed, although neither appeared on a Baker or Freeman release. The entire quartet is in truly exceptional form on these recordings. Highlights include the Freeman- and Baker-dominated cover of Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird," the tropically rhythmic "Frenesi," and a show-stopping reading of bassist Carson Smith's "Carson City Blues." Unlike much of Baker's catalog that remained decidedly more subdued, The Complete Pacific Live Jazz Recordings of Chet Baker With Russ Freeman captures the trumpet player as a young man at the very zenith of his talents. Although all the materials on this set are also available on the comparatively inexpensive Chet Baker Quartet Live, Vol. 2: Out of Nowhere and Chet Baker Quartet Live, Vol. 3: My Old Flame, they miss the lavish booklet that contains some of William Claxton's brilliant photography of the band circa the summer of 1954. This is an essential addition to any appreciation of Chet Baker or Russ Freeman.

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