There’s some nice blowing on this CD reissue of an album recorded in 1959 by trumpeter Chet Baker and a star-studded supporting cast, but it’s far too sporadic, flutist Herbie Mann’s arrangements are generally uninspiring, and the session is on the whole rather lackluster. In searching for reasons, one that quickly arises is that Baker's celebrated sidekicks—Mann, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, a youthful Bill Evans—are largely window-dressing. As an example, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is played by a quintet—Baker, Sims and the rhythm section—and Zoot doesn’t solo! In fact, he takes only three including one on alto (“Show Me,” which is listed on the tray as another quintet track with Baker and Adams on the front line but actually includes everyone).
Three seems to be the magic number, as that’s also how many solos are doled out to Mann, Adams and Evans, respectively, while pianist Bob Corwin, who divides time with Evans, has two. Baker solos on every number, of course, and glides through the familiar material without breaking a sweat (or taking any chances). Everyone, in fact, swims quite close to shore, and even Sims is relatively docile, warming to his task only on the lively “Show Me.” But as we said, Mann’s charts have something to do with that. They’re pretty limp and colorless, and in at least three instances (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “The Heather on the Hill,” “I Talk to the Trees”) far too sluggish, decelerated perhaps to serve Baker’s lyrical, romantic style (underlined here by a subtle echo-chamber effect).
The best of Lerner and Loewe? Well, one would need more than forty-three minutes to condense their best work into a single album. The best of Chet Baker? Not as long as the quartet dates with Gerry Mulligan are accessible. The best of Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams or Bill Evans? I think you already know the answer to that one.