I was particularly skeptical of a new Riverside release titled The Best of Chet Baker.I mean, here’s a guy who has been anthologized and compilated and repackaged so many time, both before and after his death in 1988, what could yet another "best of" add to the mix?
But, as often happens when I am skeptical, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a great collection for casual or advanced Chet fans, spanning a seven-year period when the trumpeter-vocalist was perhaps at his peak. Here are a couple super-cool tracks co-led by bari man Gerry Mulligan (including a take on "My Funny Valentine," practically Chet’s theme song), three sterling examples of Baker’s instantly recognizable, velvety vocalese ("The More I See You" is the stand-out), and some of his late ’50s work with larger combos that include such powerhouses as Kenny Burrell, Bill Evans, Zoot Sims and Herbie Mann, including three tracks from one of my favorite Baker discs of that era, ...Plays the Best of Lerner & Loewe. A fine cross-section of a fecund phase.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Baker’s discography is so vast, it would take a concerted effort to fully plumb all its dimensions. Perhaps if Riverside had just titled the disc, More of the Best of Chet Baker, I wouldn’t have hesitated.