Chet Baker (trumpet) was arguably at the peak of his prowess when captured in a quartet setting at the Masonic Temple in Ann Arbor, MI, May 9, 1954. He's joined by Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass) and Bob Neel (drums), all of whom provide ample assistance without ever obscuring their leader's laid-back and refined style. Baker's sublime sounds also garnered notice from critics, who had placed him atop polls in both Metronome and Down Beat magazines the previous year.
The songs of late Renaissance and early Baroque England have been sliced and diced in various ways in concert and recorded programming, but the configuration here seems to be unique. The tenor Nicholas Phan, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, devised the program himself: pointing out "how little human experience has changed over the centuries" and that Dowland's melancholia had much in common with the Romantics' veneration of the lovesick solitary hero (both debatable ideas, but both stimulating), he assembles what he calls a pastiche song cycle from compositions by Purcell, Dowland, John Blow, and other lesser-known lights.
This stalwart independent label, headquartered in San Francisco, began in a small Ann Arbor club and grew into one of the most important imprints in blues. Thirty-three tunes ricochet between the potent old-school Chicago stylings of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells's classic "Hoodoo Man Blues" and Big Walter Horton'ss swinging shuffle "Put the Kettle On" to the intriguing pop-folk hybrid of Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo and the dashing retro-nuevo guitarisms of Nick Curran & the Niteflies to the brawny Texas-schooled sounds of Omar & the Howlers and Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King. The label's Delta blues side is underrepresented, although James Cotton and Elvin Bishop offer two great flavors of cottonland grind.