Chet Baker - trumpet; John Horler - piano; Jim Richardson - bass; Tony Mann - drums
News of the resurfacing of these recordings gave cause for excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Chet’s biographers all agree that he wasn’t in the best physical shape at the time of his 6-night residency at the Canteen in London, only five years before his death in 1988. Furthermore, the album has been salvaged from a long-lost series of recordings made on a basic Sony TCS cassette recorder placed on top of the bass cabinet. Would Chet’s playing enhance or undermine his reputation as one of the great trumpeters and interpreters of the standard repertoire? And would the audio quality make listening a pleasure or a chore, more of interest to historians than aficionados?
Fortunately the news is good - after a plummy introduction from an uncredited compere, the band swing straight in to a pacy take on “Have You Met Miss Jones”; the audio quality is more than adequate, and Chet’s opening solo is every bit as good as you could wish for.
Chet handles the long, effortlessly flowing lines that made his name with no discernible difficulty, his tone cool and pure as ever, a certain urgency about his phrasing that perhaps wasn’t there in earlier days. The John Horler Trio are quite revelatory - Horler himself delivers some storming solos, and the trio are tight and swinging, worthy accompanists for a jazz legend still able to deliver the goods. Jim Richardson, once a member of hard-to-google jazz-rock outfit If which featured many other leading lights of the UK jazz/rock scene, is solid, flexible and swinging on bass, and Tony Mann, who recorded several times with Baker, is sympathetic on the quieter numbers and keeps things cooking on the uptempo stuff like Jimmy Heath’s ‘For Minors Only” and the furiously paced ‘Margarine”, which reminds us that Chet was a contemporary of the boppers as well as a leading light of the cool school.
There’s some more contemporary stuff from Richie Beirach and Sam Rivers among the standards, and a lengthy and rapturously received ‘My Funny Valentine” with a truly fantastic trumpet solo, though Chet doesn’t sing, very affectingly, til right at the end. The tunes are all around the ten-minute mark or more, as you’d expect from a club date, giving the band plenty of room to explore wherever the leader takes them. There are moments of audio distortion, and moments when Chet goes off-mic, but that doesn’t matter - the rough, unfiltered quality of the recordings capture a real sense of the immediacy of actually being there. This is a very welcome addition to the canon of Chet Baker recordings, and turns the spotlight on some great British players as well.
Reviewed by Eddie Myer
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