FIVE STARS! This boxset is available at MUCH lower prices! The following are comments heard elsewhere.
Chet Baker's sessions in Paris 1955-56, originally released on Chet Baker Quartet Vol. 1, Chet Baker Quartet Vol. 2, Chet Baker and His Quintet with Bobby Jaspar and Mythe are deservedly regarded among his best material from the 1950s, because they show for the first time a maturity and technical prowess much superior to that on the early 1950s Pacific Jazz sessions.
In 1986, Fresh Sound released the "complete" Barclay recordings on five vinyl discs; two years later, Barclay released the "complete" Barclay recordings on four compact discs , adding one CD full of additional alternate takes to the Fresh Sound package. All of these have been out of print for a while now, even though reissues of Chet Baker Quartet Vol. 1 and Chet Baker Quartet Vol. 2 have been available on mid-price CDs since 2003.
Almost ten years after its first "complete" set, Barclay now has another go at the Barclay sessions with an even more "complete" set, which is released on no fewer than eight compact discs. This sounds quite promising at first, but unfortunately, part of the trick is really in the packaging, both in a good way and in a bad way.
Let me start with the bad way: First of all, no entirely new recordings have been discovered. The 15 "previously unreleased" tracks on this release are simply additional alternate takes of previously available tracks, and about half of them are not even full takes. Second, the CDs are organised strictly on a by-session basis, meaning that the two sessions with Dick Twardzik, recorded on October 11 and 14 respectively, both of which would fit generously onto one CD, are split up on two CDs, each of which ends up being under 20 minutes in length.
The remastering of the tracks is solid, better than on the 1988 CDs, but there is not a lot of room for improvement considering the limitations of the original mono sources. Which is where the packaging comes in again, in the good way: the added value of this set is really how exquisitely it's packaged. The richly illustrated 84-page booklet does not only sport numerous, wonderfully reproduced photographs, some of which are nothing other than stunning documents of jazz photography, it also contains lengthy essays by Francis Marmande and Alain Tercinet (in English and French), an interview with composer Bob Zieff, and Baker's entire 1955/56 tour schedule. Of course there are also reproductions of the original album covers, concert programs and other paraphernalia, all on 12" glossy paper.
Each of the cardboard sleeves containing the CDs lists the precise recording and initial release data, including information on tracks that were recorded, but lost. Don't slip those CDs out too fast, by the way -- you may fail to notice that each of them is in fact housed in an additional inner sleeve that has extra liner notes about the respective recording session on it.
This box set is aimed directly at devoted Chetophiles, who will no doubt appreciate the separated and meticulously documented sessions, the full range of alternate takes and above all, the wonderful booklet. Everybody else may possibly find the 75 price tag a bit too steep and the slew of alternate takes perhaps somewhat unnecessary, especially as the most important recordings from this box are available on two CDs for well under 10 each.
It's still a beautiful collection of some top-notch performances though.