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CHET BAKER

Salt Peanuts

SLEEPY NIGHT RECORDS SNRCD021 [79:32]

 

Prayer for the Newborn

My Ideal

Lady Bird

Resonant Emotion

Ray’s Idea

My Funny Valentine

If I Should Lose You

Round Midnight

Beatrice

Chet Baker (trumpet and vocals): Jon Eardley (flugelhorn): Bob Mover (saxophones); Dennis Luxion (piano): Rocky Knauer (bass): Burkhard Ruckert (drums)

Recorded at the Salt Peanuts Club, Cologne, 23-24 May 1981

 

In the first half of 1981 Chet Baker toured France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Some items have appeared over the years on bootlegs, but this is the first official release of the performances given at the Salt Peanuts Club in Cologne over two nights in May. For the aficionado there is a twelve-page booklet with colour photographs of the gigs, a helpful and revealing note from Dennis Luxion, the pianist on the dates, and good quality sound.

What made the gigs even more interesting is the inclusion of the flugelhorn player Jon Eardley who, fortunately for recorded posterity, was brought in for just the Cologne gigs. In Paris Claudio Roditi took Eardley’s place. The personnel listing above needs amending in one respect in that drummer Burkhard Ruckert only appeared on the first night at the club; by the second he was gone. Baker and drummers famously didn’t get along and I think you can tell that he, and others like him, were too heavy for Baker, too insistent. Like a pianist with a propulsive left hand with no need of a bass player – because he is his own in-built bass - Baker fared best in a lighter environment where his lyricism flourished unimpeded. You can hear the plus-drums and minus-drums performances on these preserved tapes and the latter are markedly superior.

The arrangements are generally spare but the dovetailing eloquence between the two brass players is notable throughout, not least on the deft work on Prayer for the Newborn. Joining them in the front line is Bob Mover who takes a fine solo on My Ideal where Baker’s typically ethereal vocal reinforces the predominantly slow tempo of the majority of these tracks. Ensemble is pretty tight on Lady Bird, whilst Resonant Emotion just about reaches mid-tempo, though with the rhythm section not quite ideally forwardly balanced, a thought that may not have discouraged Baker. His allusive solo on this track ends with blues cadences as he hands over solo duties to Mover, who is on especially fine form and sounds fully warmed up. Eardley too is fluent and controlled, as is Luxion. This is assuredly one of the best tracks on the album.

Ray’s Idea is pure bop, straight ahead with fine unisons and solos; nice arrangement too. It wouldn’t be Baker if there weren’t a performance of My Funny Valentine. There’s nothing startling about it this late in the game but there are poetic fills by the players behind Baker, fully supporting him and expanding the poetic radius of his musicianship. A shift up-tempo comes with If I Should Lose You where bassist Rocky Knauer’s quick reflexes are an asset and where Mover’s galvanic sax solo earns Baker’s murmuring vocal approval. Eardley picks up Mover’s challenge and there’s a freedom in the front line over the piano-and-bass rhythm that is not always evident on the first night where the drums are present. There’s a beautifully melancholy and rich toned performance ofRound Midnight and to finish a mid-tempo, lyrical Beatrice with good solos all round.

This mellow, rich-hued gig, taped over two nights, shows that Baker was still playing with his accustomed sensitivity throughout and that his front-line partners were up to the challenges of sitting alongside him and generating rewarding results. If you’ve come across this in bootleg form you should know that the sound quality here is fine and that this attractive set is both thoughtful and stimulating.

Jonathan Woolf


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