Top positive review
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A mixed bag of Baker, but well worth having for the best stuff.
on 30 April 2013
It was quite a surprise to see eight Chet Baker albums, all recorded/released in the 1950s, collected together like this, out of which I only had one already in our large-ish collection of his music. Most Baker fans will pretty likely have most or all of the Chet Baker Sings tracks, as this is not only one of his best known, best loved and best selling albums in its own right, but the first port of call for compilation makers. If, like us, you have quite a bit else from Chet's extensive catalogue, most of this will slot in nicely. There's plenty of excellent material from both his trumpet-playing and vocalising sides, and the material and treatment is both varied and yet, for the most part, consistently good.
If you don't yet know the joys of C.B., this would be a good place to start, as you get the absolutely essential Chet Baker Sings as well as a good representative range of his other work from the period (arguably when he was at his peak). There's a fairly large dose of string arrangements (and not just on the Chet Baker And Strings album), which range from dated and saccharine to really quite good. If, however, you already know and love Baker, then there are really only two particularly noteworthy albums, to my mind. One notable for bad reasons, and one for good. The former is Chet Baker Introduces Johnny Pace. This is, for me at any rate, and despite Chet and the band doing a sterling job musically, irrevocably ruined by the featured vocalist, Johnny Pace. A Sinatra knock-off, he only differs from his role model in utilising more vibrato. His schmaltzy mannered delivery couldn't be more of a contrast with Baker's own singing style. Whose idea was this?
As if to highlight this, the album most notable for positive reasons is the vocal-heavy trio recording, Embraceable You. But this time, thank goodness, it's Chet singing. Unlike the Pace recording, this was shelved for many years, no doubt deemed uncommercial (Pace's commerciality is precisely what makes the music he appears on so comparatively banal). Oh, the idiocy of 'the music biz'! Sequenced as the last of the eight albums gathered together here, the position given to Embraceable You shows someone at Real Gone Jazz had more sense than the record execs of the era, as chronologically the Johnny Pace set would've come last. It's terrific that they chose to end with the far better trio recordings. Numbers like Little Girl Blue (performed as both a vocal and an instrumental) and the very last track, Trav'lin Light, are perfect sonic manifestations of Baker's ultra-mellow, ultra minimal and impossibly romantic after-hours persona.
Ironically the 'flaws' in this recording, if such they be, just add to the charm: Baker's vocal delivery itself, his extreme minimalism trumpet-wise, even the slightly out-of-tune notes from the double bass, these are like the grit in the oyster that creates a beautiful pearl (David 'Buck' Wheat's guitar is a revelation!). When I heard the Pace recordings, I almost regretted buying this set. However the Embraceable You album alone more than atones for that. And of course, very fortunately, everything else here is at the very least good, much of it excellent, with Chet Baker Sings being truly sublime. So, whether coming new to Chet, or filling gaps in your collection, as long as you don't have too much of what's on offer here already, I'd say this is an essential purchase, and a bargain to boot.