Chet Baker – Live in London Volume II
(Ubuntu UBU0014.2 CDs. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Chet Baker completists need deep pockets: he recorded over 100 albums during his lifetime, and many more have been released since. A couple of years ago Ubuntu added to this long list with the first double CD set of live material from a week of London shows Baker played in late March 1983. Now here comes a second collection from the same residency. The venue was a short-lived jazz club in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, called The Canteen – previously Blitz, headquarters of the New Romantic movement.
Given the state of Baker’s health at the time, it’s amazing he could play at all. Cocaine, cigarettes, and most of all heroin had ravaged him physically. His singing features on only two tracks, My Ideal and When I Fall in Love, and it’s frankly rather painful to listen to, sounding, as James Gavin puts it in his biography of Baker, “as pinched and nasal as a kazoo.” Yet by some miracle, his trumpet-playing had somehow survived the drug-fuelled battery of thirty years. Apart from some split notes on the opening track, Horace Silver’s Strollin’, his chops sound in great shape.
The tunes mostly unspool at an unhurried pace, each lasting around the ten-minute mark, and only Stella by Starlight and Just Friends are played at anything above mid-tempo.
As lyrical as Baker’s trumpet sounds, for me the real revelation is the piano-playing of John Horler. Bill Evans is his role model, and he shares with Evans the elusive combination of dazzling fluency, richly-layered harmony and sweetness of melodic invention. Despite also having Kenny Wheeler and John Dankworth on his CV, Horler still rates the Chet Baker gig as a highlight of his career, and rightly so.
Along with him here are Jim Richardson on bass and Tony Mann on drums, both of whom provide excellent, unshowy support. It’s Richardson we have to thank for this album: he put his Sony cassette recorder on top of his bass cabinet at the start of each gig, and pressed ‘Record’. Instead of the thin, hissy, unbalanced result we might expect, the tape has been cleaned up and enhanced to an extraordinary degree. The quality is outstanding, and in terms of human technical achievement surely ranks with landing a man on the moon.
My favourite cut is the beautiful Richie Beirach ballad Broken Wing (also caught on video below); the same composer’s Leaving appears on Volume I.
LIVE GIG: Chet Baker – Live in London Volume II receives a belated launch at the Jazz Café on 18th September. (BOOKINGS). This date features the original rhythm section, plus Quentin Collins (trumpet), Leo Richardson (saxophone) and Cherise Adams-Burnett (vocals).