In the summer of 1955, Chet Baker decided to go on a concert tour of Europe for a few weeks. He ended up staying there for more than six months, and his work and experiences during that time, which was mostly spent in Paris, should be crucial for his career and his life.
Chet Baker's West Coast cool comes to the Big Apple on Chet Baker in New York. The project would be Baker's first – in a four album deal – with the Big Apple-based Riverside Records. The bicoastal artist incorporates his decidedly undernourished sound and laid-back phrasing into the styling of Al Haig (piano), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums)…
During his extended "stay" in Europe circa the late '50s and early '60s, Chet Baker produced half a dozen albums for the Riverside Records subsidiary label Jazzland. On Chet Baker in Milan – the first of his overseas sides – Baker revisits the familiar stomping grounds of West Coast cool, even though he is the only American in the band. The basic quartet includes Chet Baker (trumpet), Renato Sellani (piano), Franco Serri (bass), and Gene Victory (drums). However, on a majority of the cuts, that unit is upgraded to a sextet with sax players Glauco Masetti (alto) and Gianno Basso (tenor). According to Peter Drew's brief liner notes essay, these Italian players were found by a local record label and arrangements were essentially retrofitted to suit Baker.
An extension of the popular Original Jazz Classics series (est. 1982), the new OJC Remasters releases reveal the sonic benefits of 24-bit remastering-a technology that didn't exist when these titles were originally issued on compact disc. The addition of newly-written liner notes further enhances the illuminating quality of the OJC Remasters reissues. "Each of the recordings in this series is an all-time jazz classic," says Nick Phillips, Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R at Concord Music Group and producer of the series.
When Chet Baker landed in Paris in September 1955, the nightlife of the St. Germain-des-Prés quarter was uninhibitedly competing with New York City’s 52nd Street. American jazz musicians frequently recorded with the local musicians like Henri Renaud, Jean-Louis Viale, Pierre Michelot, Martial Solal, René Urtreger, and Bobby Jasper, as well as American expatriates Dave Amran, Jay Cameron, and Jimmy Gourley.
You would never know this set was recorded entirely in Italy with Italian jazz musicians supporting Chet Baker if you didn't read the liner notes. Indeed, it sounds as if Baker gathered with his usual West Coast gang on some sunny California afternoon...
The quality of Chet Baker's product was so varied during the last decade or more of his life that recording sessions varied markedly. For this "remixed version" of Mr. B Baker sounds a tad tired, though his chops are in fine form. The studio recording captures the trumpeter with highly sympathetic and self-effacing pianist Michel Grallier and bassist Ricardo Del Fra, both of whom engage in the leader's brand of sensitivity. There are no vocals by the trumpeter, but plenty of improvising. The interesting tune selection features a few songs played often by Baker (such as Wayne Shorter's "Dolphin Dance" and Horace Silver's "Strollin'"), but several that are not associated with him at all (Grallier's "White Blues" and his gorgeous "Father X-mas," to name a couple). There is a sadness permeating the trumpeter's sound throughout, exacerbated by the lazy, sometimes sluggish, tempos. A deep and touching beauty can be felt, marking this as one of Chet's best from the period.
Whether as a trumpeter or singer, Chet Baker was always the subject of controversy among jazz listeners, a victim of fashion who was doomed in his lifetime to be either over- or underrated. These Pacific Jazz recordings from the mid-1950s present Baker the instrumentalist at the height of his popularity. While his coolly passive treatments of ballads like "Imagination" and "Stella by Starlight" may play to the languid stereotype of West Coast jazz, there's boppish fire and invention on the medium- and up-tempo tunes, with Baker emphasizing the middle register that was his forte. Altoist Art Pepper and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer turn up among the supporting cast, and there's a good choice of material by boppish heads from both coasts, including Carson Smith's "Carson City Stage," Jimmy Heath's "C.T.A.," and Al Haig's "Jumping Off a Clef".