Chet Baker ‘Live in London’ 2CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

chet-bakerDouble bassist and musician Jim Richardson originally taped these live performances of Chet Baker for his own pleasure on a Sony TCS recorder and captured the trumpeter with the John Horler trio over six nights back in 1983. We are greatly indebted to him for having the foresight to do so and some thirty or so years later digital technology has cleaned up the distortion, hiss and pops that can surface on tape over a longer period of time and that significantly enhances both the overall sound and, ultimately, the listeners enjoyment. The result is a marvellous document of the live performances that, while not quite the standard of present day recordings, is remarkably clear and vibrant, especially the trumpet of Chet and the piano playing of John Horler. The drums are slightly distant, but still acceptable while the bass is a little depressed in the mix. Above all else, with the usual vagaries of tape overcome, the listener is free to appreciate the music and what comes across is how well Chet Baker was performing on these extended interpretations of standards.
What helps Chet to be able to relax and play so well is the cohesive nature of the trio and this was no last-minute assembling of musicians to support the trumpeter. The John Horler trio functioned independently in their own right and there is fine interplay between drummer Tony Mann, bassist Richardson and trio leader Horler throughout the numbers.

Chet Baker was always admired for his impeccable phrasing and this comes to the fore on the thirteen minute rendition of,’Have you met Miss Jones?’, that is performed at a reasonably rapid tempo, with the trio stretching out. A real bonus and a treat to hear is a wonderful reading of Sam Rivers’ beautiful composition, ‘Beatrice’. It is seldom heard interpreted by anyone other than Rivers, but Baker is so compelling here that this is second only to the original, with the trumpet and piano working wonderfully in tandem here. Long-time Chet fans admire his vocal talents and this is illustrated on a gorgeous take on, ‘Touch of your lips’, which has an emotive quality that is reminiscent of the great Billie Holiday. Yes, Baker’s vocal powers may have been in decline similar to latter period Holiday (both the victims of drug abuse), but both amply compensated with conveying their innermost emotions. On top of this, Baker lays down a trumpet solo of great lyrical beauty.

The second CD follows suit with an impeccable selection of standards that includes what is regarded as a de facto Chet signature tune in, ‘My funny Valentine’, while ‘I’ll remember April’ receives a sensitive reading. That sensitivity and one might add vulnerability in Chet Baker’s personality, perhaps, made him aware of other kindred spirits and it should come as little surprise, then, that Chet should want to over, ‘With a song in my heart’, a piece that was dear to pianist Bill Evans’ heart. What a crying shame that we never had the privilege of hearing those two musicians perform together.

Last, but by no means least, the black and white cover photo of Chet from 1983 tells a thousand stories and his addiction would blight his musical career, and even more tragically, shorten his life. However, when Baker could keep that addiction under control, even if only for brief periods, then the music was able to take centre stage and the result could be and invariably were stunningly beautiful. These recordings are one such example and this re-issue is a blessing for those who have only ever heard Chet in the studio and wonder what his seemingly fragile sound might be like in a live context. Full marks to Jim Richardson for recording this music in the first place and for lovingly ensuring that the music is faithfully represented and will remain part of the Chet Baker legacy.

Tim Stenhouse