In pursuing the musical spirit of Chet Baker, Canadian trumpeter/vocalist Leif Arntzen and his group take on a dozen compositions almost entirely associated with the late icon. Does the success of this album depend upon just how close Arntzen gets in emulating Baker? To my mind, that is not the issue.
Arntzen is a good player, and his instrumental style is not that closely associated with Baker's. Since many of these tunes are performed as ballads, Leif Arntzen does get to play them in an atmospheric fashion, but I wouldn't associate the trumpet work per se with Baker. Arntzen is a bopper and a fluent one. The closest he gets is on Russ Freeman's mid-'50s swinger "Happy Little Sunbeam," a favorite of Chet's during his Pacific Jazz period, in which Arntzen matches the punchy up-tempo Baker persona.
What really closes this gap is Arntzen's vocals, which make full use of the song's verses (Baker rarely used them). Arntzen's own voice is much better than Baker's, and I just don't know if he is holding back in order to get close to the Baker vocal style. While tunes like "Do it the Hard Way," "Silver Lining" and "It Could Happen To You" are accurately recreated from the period recordings, the casual listener would probably find a close affinity to the originals. Yet Baker's vocals, considered heartbreaking or effete (choose your preference) are not entirely matched.
That's not meant to say "close but no cigar." I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this session for its own merits. The interaction, especially the work of guitarist Keith Ganz, is especially commendable, although I can't recall Baker working with a guitarist during the 1950s. Having stepped in my own trap, permit me to rephrase that last thought.
It is not important here to duplicate the voice or instrumentation of Chet Baker. What does count is how enjoyable this album is, regardless of comparisons.
Visit Leif Arntzen on the web.
Personnel: Leif Arntzen: trumpet, vocals; Will Woodard: bass; Keith Ganz: electric guitar; Vito Leszcak: