Chet Baker

The Sesjun Radio Shows

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Chet Baker was often not at his best in later years, taking nearly every live gig or recording date regardless of whether he was physically and mentally up to it (due to his longtime drug habit) or the musicians were truly compatible. Happily, Baker is in top form during these live broadcasts from the Sesjun radio shows (which aired from 1973 to 2004) in The Netherlands. The first four songs feature Baker with his regular pianist Harold Danko, bassist Cameron Brown, and flutist Jacques Pelzer. The breezy rendition of "There Will Never Be Another You" comes across effortlessly, with fine solos all around and the leader offering a strong vocal and intricate trumpet in the ensembles. Just as potent is the extended interpretation of Dizzy Gillespie's "Ray's Idea" with spirited solos by Pelzer, Baker, Brown, and Danko. One track was recorded during the same show that appears on the Criss Cross CD Live at Nick's (though it is not included on that CD), a heartfelt vocal setting of "This Is Always," with Baker backed by his regular band (the brilliant pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Scott Lee, and drummer Jeff Brillinger). One of the more unusual groups Baker led includes vibraphonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid, bassist Frank Tusa, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Although Mouzon had a tendency to play in a rock-influenced style that infuriated the leader, he is remarkably restrained on brushes in the easygoing vocal treatment of "Just Friends," while he uses both brushes and sticks in Baker's potent take of Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird." The two tracks from 1984 feature Baker with his regular pianist of the time, Michel Graillier, plus a pickup rhythm section, bassist Jan Voogd and drummer John Engels, with the trumpeter subbing for an ill Phil Woods. The band came together rather well on short notice, particularly in the lengthy but never dull rendition of "My Foolish Heart," showcasing the leader on both vocals and trumpet, both in a lyrical mood. Saxophonist Allan Eager appeared as a guest in Hal Galper's raucous bop vehicle "Margarine," but his substandard solo was mercifully edited out of the track. The last five songs feature Baker in an intimate trio with guitarist Philip Catherine and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, highlighted by the low-key but infectious take of Horace Silver's "Strollin'," the warm arrangement of J.J. Johnson's timeless ballad "Lament," and Kenny Dorham's infrequently performed blues "Shifting Down." This two-CD compilation showcases Chet Baker in peak performances from late in his career; hopefully similar issues will be forthcoming from the Sesjun radio archives.

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