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The reservation approaching this late-in-his-career and previously unreleased 1986 set happily proved to be unwarranted. Attending a dismal Chet Baker set in a brief-lived New York Village club that same year left me sad and depressed at the state of his playing and appearance, vowing to enjoy him only on record. Yet here he is in quite splendid form, uniquely melancholic and lyrical with "We'll Be Together Again." Although he doesn't sing on this song, those familiar with Baker will recognize his trumpet serving here as the coolly restrained alter ego of his voice.
The calmness of his trumpet, initially moody and dark, opens the set with a lengthy, soulful solo on "Old Devil Moon." When pianist Bradley Jones joins him, he and the trio spin into something more up-tempo and Baker's sparseness takes on an easy, flowing inventiveness. It is a set dominated by up-tempo tunes, on three of which Ed Peterson's tenor sax is challenging company for Baker. Their pairing on "Ornithology" is interactive and spirited, reminding the listener that for a brief time in the '50s Baker played on the West Coast with Bird.
The only vocal is "My Funny Valentine," a signature Baker song that hearkens back to his earliest success as a young pioneering prince of 'cool jazz.' As a member of Gerry Mulligan's famously piano-less quartet, Baker's style was spare, precise and somehow both detached and intense. Throughout his career some preferred his trumpet, others his vocalizing and still others dismissed him altogether as jazz poseur not to be taken seriously. As heard here it's clear that Baker (despite the often evident effects of a lifelong heroin habit, which sometimes found him nodding out during a set) was continuing to play compellingly what flowed from somewhere deep within.
This is a fitting last "Valentine" for it is quintessential Baker. Containing more gravel than in the past, his voice verges on hushed at times, around which he wraps a still piercing horn. The delivery of each is singular. He imbues it all with a unique and mysterious cool, of which he was the sole possessor.
Track Listing: Old Devil Moon; It's You Or No One; We'll Be Together Again; Ornithology; Crazy Rhythm; My Funny Valentine; Sippin' At Bells; Solar.
Personnel: Chet Baker: trumpet and vocal; Bradley Young: piano; Larry Gray: bass; Rusty Jones: drums; Ed Petersen: tenor saxophone.