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Chet Is Back

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Album Review

Having been reissued numerous times over the years under various titles, this Bluebird version of Chet Is Back! stands out as the definitive packaging of one of Chet Baker's best early-'60s recordings. Besides featuring the original artwork and liner notes — as well as detailed new liner notes from James Gavin, author of Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker — the real impetus to pick this up is the inclusion of four orchestral pop singles Baker recorded with Ennio Morricone around the same time as the album. Never before released in the U.S., these tracks were purportedly composed by the trumpeter/vocalist while serving jail time in Lucca, Italy after obtaining fake drug prescriptions. Interestingly, in an act of what would now be viewed as monumental "enabling," Pino Maffei, the court stenographer at Baker's trial, penned the lyrics. Oozing with a wistful, melodic romanticism, these four lost gems are essential listening for Baker fanatics. Singing — in Italian no less — and backed by Morricone's choir, string and horn arrangements that swell like a balmy ocean tide over light ballads and breezy mid-tempo swingers, this is Baker as Federico Fellini might have imagined him. The eight original tracks to the main album are also revelatory in that Baker — usually pegged as a low-register "cool" player — really cuts loose on such bop-oriented workouts as "Pent-up House" and "Well, You Needn't." Backed skillfully by a young cadre of up-and-coming European musicians, including the stellar saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, Baker may have never sounded better, including on the ballads. One listen to "Over the Rainbow" and it's clear this is an overlooked Baker classic.


Born: December 23, 1929 in Yale, OK

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Chet Baker was a primary exponent of the West Coast school of cool jazz in the early and mid-'50s. As a trumpeter, he had a generally restrained, intimate playing style and he attracted attention beyond jazz for his photogenic looks and singing. But his career was marred by drug addiction. Baker's father, Chesney Henry Baker,Sr., was a guitarist who was forced to turn to other work during the Depression; his mother, Vera (Moser) Baker, worked in a perfumery. The family moved from Oklahoma to Glendale,...
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