After spending the last few years reviewing a dang plethora of contemporary jazz releases as well as classic reissues, I’ve come to certain conclusions. One, which is surprising, is that only now am I truly appreciating Chet Baker. Yeah, he’s a great trumpeter and all, and I love his soft, romantic approach to his horn, but I’ve also developed a profound fondness for Baker’s singing voice. That’s one of the many reasons why I’m thrilled with Jazz Detective‘s latest Chet Baker release, Blue Room.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
Blue Room, which was released in celebration of Record Store Day 2023, covers recording sessions from April 1979 at VARA Studio 2 in Hilversum, The Netherlands. This 2-LP set includes all the obligatory interviews, photos, liner notes and essays you’d expect from such a unique release, but it’s truly special for two reasons. First, the sound quality of this pressing is superb–sometimes these “lost recordings” are valued because of their historical rarity, sometimes sacrificing sound quality. Not Blue Room. Jazz Detective has ensured that this sounds every bit as modern, and of interest to pure audiophiles, as I’ve heard.
Second, Blue Room captures Chet Baker later in his career, a time when he was struggling and aging from a life filled with drama. As the liner notes succinctly describe:
“Baker’s life was tailor-made for that treacherous storyboard: a James Dean-like doomed youth and Charlie Parker sideman in the 1950s; the star of the era’s chamber-jazzy cool school movement whose heroin habit brought jail terms, domestic strife, a playing life of one-night stands and early death at 58. Yet through it all, Baker kept conjuring beautiful jazz, particularly in Europe.”
Blue Room seems to contradict so much of that all-too common jazz narrative–Baker is in wonderful form. The two LPs cover a wide variety of Baker’s output–straight ahead jazz standards, plenty of smooth, seductive horn playing juxtaposed with his vocals, which are surprisingly youthful and enthusiastic. He still seems like that boyish trumpeter with the equally boyish voice, sometimes bridging that gap between a true tenor and heck, maybe a soprano.
Two recording sessions are represented in this pair of LPs: the November 9th session featured Dutch jazz performers as pianist Frans Elsen, bassist Victor Kaihatu and drummer Eric Ineke, while the April 10th session enlisted pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, and drummer Charles Rice. Blue Room was an unexpected pleasure in my review pile, close to what we’d expect for Baker if he’d lived a little longer while maintaining that one-of-a-kind charisma.