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Chet Baker: Career 1952-1988

David Rickert By

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This Chet Baker collection begins and ends, appropriately enough, with two different versions of "My Funny Valentine. One is from the pioneering Gerry Mulligan Quartet at the early part of Baker's career; the other comes from a live performance two weeks before his untimely death. The critics hated his version of the song, as did many of his peers. But it's the song most associated with Baker, and one that always brought out his fragile and melancholy side, regardless of whether he sang it or played it.

As a career retrospective, this set is hard to beat. The two discs are broken into "Trumpeter and "Singer, representing the facets of Baker's career that more or less received equal weight. "Trumpeter features early tracks from the West Coast scene on gigs with Mulligan, Russ Freeman, and others, as well as tracks from a European stay that was plagued with personal problems (although unfortunately, nothing with ill-fated pianist Dick Twardzik).

While Baker always gets lumped in with the cool jazz scene, he was heavily influenced by bebop (and Diz in particular) and could blow as hot as anybody, as a run through "Well You Needn't and a "When Lights Are Low from a stint in the New York scene attest. The ghosts began to creep in during the seventies, yet reunions with Mulligan and a cadre of up-and-comers demonstrated that although Baker's sound had hollowed out and become even more haunted, he was still capable of turning in an effective performance.

The second disc features Baker's vocal numbers, which often featured a good deal of trumpet work as well. Baker's vocals were either loved or hated, and his androgynous delivery was a far cry from other male vocalists of the day. The vocal selections here weigh heavily on the Pacific Jazz years when he did his best work. Early on Baker was presented as a heartthrob of sorts, and early vocals like "The Thrill Is Gone and "Let's Get Lost channel his trumpet sound into the lyric delivery. Just as with the instrumental tracks, the later vocal tracks exhibit a combination of weariness and wisdom that is bewitching.

Baker fans will have most of this material in their collection already, but they will appreciate a chance to hear the cream of the crop of the hit-or-miss later years. Newcomers can check out several essential Baker tracks before going after the essential albums. When you add an excellent 46-page booklet to the packaging, Shout! Factory once again proves that they can handle reissues and retrospectives better than most.

Track Listing: Disc One: My Funny Valentine; Half Nelson; Love Walked In; Pro Defunctus; Alone Together; Love Nest; When Lights Are Low; Well, You Needn

Personnel: Chet Baker: trumpet, vocals; various others.

Title: Career 1952-1988 | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Pacific Jazz Records

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