To my mind, one of the great sets of releases of the last few decades was the Musical Heritage label's issuing of Benny Goodman's Yale years, a collection of double LPs that showed a side of the stellar clarinetist not so evident in his big band work and completely fascinating. Just as surprising was the fact that MHS (Musical Heritage Society), chiefly an anal-retentive bore of an outfit, was the imprint to indite the series. Thus, there is a good deal more excitement attached to this revelation of lost Chet Baker sessions from the Naxos label, a vastly more progressive and classy aegis. Add to that a rather mind-blowing cast of back-up units that included Philip Catherine, Alphonse Mouzon, Harold Danko, and the phenomenal bassist Cameron Brown, and you have everything necessary for a really arresting listen.
Jeroen de Volk, who penned the first biography of Baker, supplies a great set of liner notes in a 16-page booklet sporting some marvelous b&w shots of Baker. Chet, notorious as a drug addict and more than a little irresponsible, loved playing the Dutch Tros Sesjun gigs and was, in complete contrast to his ordinary wont, invariably on time and rarin' to go…save for one missed date: May 12, 1988, the day he died after a fall from a third story window, not discovered until hours after the failed engagement. In all the Sesjun recordings, though, Baker's playing and singing were top-notch, evidence of a peculiar environmental something that engendered a strong affinity in the trumpet player. Nor were his accompanists short of the mark, turning in killer solos and background coloration. As would be expected, Danko is breathtaking, but Cameron is riveting, a dervish on his contrabass, stunning and then some.
The strip-down of what is primarily a quartet to a trio ensemble format is intriguing, just trumpet (and voice), guitar, and bass, no drums, no keyboards. Baker, like Miles Davis, was always exceedingly generous with allotments for everyone to step out and stretch, but this smaller configuration allows more time within his own inventions. The gent wastes not a moment getting down to business, lip in excellent shape, chops as honed as ever, brain working in refinement. Philip Catherine adds the sort of chords and runs that attracted such diverse elements as the rock group Focus and guitar lion Larry Coryell to him while Jean Louis Rassinfosse perfectly maintains timekeeping duties even while soloing. Pay particular attention, however, to the swells, fades, and spaces in the trio's take on Cole Porter's Love for Sale; surprising stuff, subtle and audacious simultaneously.
Not a cut on this showcase is less than excellent, providing the baseline for what will, in the future, be an ongoing series of releases of the Sesjun broadcasts gathering in such figures as Gerry Mulligan, Art Blakey, and others. With this as the touchstone, we can well imagine what's in store. The mouth waters.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles