Recent listening, current

Saturday, December 7, 2013

156. Chet Baker / The Italian Sessions (1962)

Baker's groups in Europe were a mixed lot. Sometimes they were great but sometimes it was just the opposite. Then after a lifetime of drugs, alcohol, and legal trouble, his tone and technique suffered hugely.  I like this disc because it is none of those things. It features Baker on the front line of a charging hard bop sextet. He holds his own flanked by piano, tenor sax, and guitar. His lines are so forthright and aggressive, so strident and even verbose (for Baker) that it hardly even sounds like him. I'm dying to put it in a blindfold test because it's such a curveball. The high spirited band gets started on the first track. "Well You Needn't" is one of two rhythmically thorny pieces in the session, the other being Charlie Parker's "Barbados." In the Monk tune, Baker careens along filling the space above and below him with a clarion tone and fast but thoughtful flits into the upper register. The drummer, Daniel Humair, drives the thing right over the top. Every track is short and concise -- no wasted space, no excessive showboating, no lost attention or bad takes. If you know the Let's Get Lost Chet Baker, the Californian bebop sensibility, the underplayed moody ballads and minimalistic statements in the lower register only, then you could revise that understanding, or at least enrich it, with these eight performances. They even do "Star Eyes," which is one of my favorite tunes by anyone.

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