Much has already been written re: Chet Baker’s fast/scary life and mysterious death - as with many such iconic characters, the Legend casts a big shadow over Accomplishment. This collection presents a dreamy cross-section of Baker’s accomplishments, namely those of first-class jazz trumpeter and decent vocalist.
In his 50s and 60s heyday, many jazz critics and fans dismissed Baker outright, because he had two major things going against him: he was Caucasian/white and he was in the possession of movie star-type good looks. Further, he dared perform jazz that was resolutely lyrical and user-friendly in an era where Jazz The Art Form was supposed to defy, indict and/or challenge the listener. [Imagine!
] None of this changes the fact that Baker was an ace trumpeter, continuing the lineage of Miles Davis and Clifford Brown - his fires burned beneath a cool, implacable surface, epitomizing L.A. Cool rather than NYC Vehemence. Like that City of Angels, it’s sunny and breezy on the surface, but anyone who knows its history or has read James Ellroy can tell you, there was a lot of High, Strange - and often harrowing - Action going on all the time. So it was with Baker and his horn. His was a "singing" tone, seductive rather than brassy - listen to his achingly poetic, almost elegiac take on "Lush Life," included here. But don’t get the idea he didn’t swing or wasn’t inventive - sample his propulsive, at times Don Cherry-like (in spots) playing on "Happy Little Sunbeam." Vocally, a Sinatra or Cole he wasn’t, but his delicate, measured voice (recalling Mel Torme and A.C. Jobim) has an appealing mix of starry-eyed romanticism and seen-too-much world-weariness. If you’re curious about this legendary character, seen the Baker documentary film Let’s Get Lost
(his tales of dissipation would match or top most pop and rock stars) on cable and/or want to get a disc-gift for that jazz-shy friend of yours this Xmas season, this comp (spanning the years 1952-1983) is a great
idea. [P.S.: there’re also nice sounds within from Stan Getz, Russ Freeman and Kenny Barron.]