by: Bob Mersereau
Chet Baker – a sadder Sinatra, a mellower Miles. His fan club is significantly smaller, almost a cult really, beloved as a jazz man that should have been bigger, but sabotaged his career. It’s the old story from jazz, drugs making a mess of the talent. Yet he left a lot of excellence, and was a rare threat on two instruments, his trumpet, and his voice.
Baker’s best known for the definitive reading of My Funny Valentine, and it of course must kick off this examination of his songbook. Oh, and hats off to Dusk, it’s a bold choice to cover the Baker book. After all, it’s not exactly widely known. Chet’s versions anyway. Many of the tunes he favoured were standards, including Time After Time by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne, Embraceable You by the Gershwins, and Mercer/Arlen’s Come Rain Or Come Shine. Dusk nails it in the liner notes, saying Baker had a remarkably quiet voice, pouring all the emotion into a delicate reading rather than a crooner’s use of volume. Dusk has, technically, a better voice, and here does a fine job keeping it soft. It’s not as sad as Baker sang, but of course, you could hear the serious blues the man carried around.
The album features tremendous arrangements throughout, especially on the orchestral tracks. Being careful not to overwhelm the vocals, there’s a great live feel to the strings and horns, and a big symphonic section, complete with grand splashes of percussion. Woodwind openings give way to washes of strings, gentle accents in place after almost every vocal line. Harp! Piccolo! Thanks for the richness, folks. It’s appreciated. And the guest who drop by are there for excellent reasons, including the legendary Sandoval, soloing on trumpet and flugelhorn on three tracks, Guido Basso flugeling on another, and Emilie-Claire Barlow dropping in for a duet on Embraceable You. Get lost in this.