Music Reviews
Chet Baker

Chet Baker

In New York

Riverside, Concord Music

So often we interpret the past as if was the present with odd hairstyles, but once in a while you catch some small detail that slaps you in the face and says “No. It was DIFFERENT back then.” That moment lies in the liner notes on this Concord reissue of Chet Baker’s 1958 classic. Barker was a big deal back then, his singing was up there with Nat King Cole, and Rex Reed wrote that Baker’s vocals “made girls fall out of their saddle oxfords.” Let’s see anyone in today’s jazz universe pull off that Justin Beiber sized trick.

We don’t hear Baker sing on this disc, but his trumpet work is enough. The debate of those days revolved around “West Coast jazz” vs. “East Coast jazz.” That distinction is lost on me, but whatever the roots of this record, it’s a soulful and well-composed work all the way from “Fair Weather” to “When the Lights Are Low.” “Fair Weather” starts with a brief chatter of brushes on a cymbal, sounding a bit like a gust of sleet across a window, but it then settles into a bouncy and urgent portrait of a trumpet in the bebop mode. The oddly named “Polka Dots and Moon Beams” takes a lower energy track, its puffy, rounded notes float over the floor, chased by the occasional flourishes of solo. In “Hotel 49” the pace becomes more urgent and decisive, and “Solar” blasts us all the way through to the closing number. Backing Baker we find Johnny Griffin on sax, Al Haig on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Jones on drums.

As you delve deeper into jazz, the names become familiar and the styles start to identify themselves, but a set of jazz trading cards might help keep all the casual pickups straight. Concord’s liner notes help, but I think it’s time to get out a big sheet of graph paper and start making a jazz map. In New York will certainly be one of the major cities in that map.

Concord Music:

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