The authors of the esteemed jazz ‘bible’, the Penguin Guide To Jazz, once wrote that they were still getting to grips with his legacy, more than ten years after his death – and that their view of his later output had changed over time, as it became apparent just how many fine albums he had recorded in the 1980s. Even now – another twenty years on – this is not a widely held belief, with many musicians and critics of the view that Chet was in a steady decline after his mid-1950s peak.
Granted, his later output was patchy – but when he was good, he was really good. And at London’s Canteen in 1983, he was on superb form. He had just completed – or almost completed, it ended acrimoniously – a tour with Stan Getz. As a result, his chops were in good shape. The manager of that tour, Wim Wigt, arranged some tour dates at relatively short notice, and paired Chet with the John Horler Trio (John Horler on piano, Jim Richardson on bass and Tony Mann on drums).
Jim Richardson requested permission to record the gigs that took place, and positioned a Sony tape record on top of his bass amp. He talked to a number of record companies about releasing the tapes over the years – but finally – some thirty-odd years after the event – Martin Hummel’s Ubuntu Music got permission from Chet Baker’s estate to release two double-CD sets – of which this is the second volume.
The music is ballad-heavy - as one would expect from Chet at this stage of his career - but the material is well-chosen. Highlights include a lovely version of Horace Silver’s standard, Strollin’, Richie Beirach’s sublime Broken Wing – a regular feature of Chet’s set – Down by Miles Davis, Hancock’s Dolphin Dance and a rare Chet vocal recording of When I Fall In Love.
Chet’s playing is fantastic, as he delivered lengthy, inventive, quite exquisite solos. He played (and sang) very close to the microphone, so his soft, elegant tone is captured to good effect. Horler often had the difficult task of following those solos, but also plays beautifully too, with Richardson and Mann providing strong support. Chet’s vocals were something of an acquired taste in his later years, and were not on the same level as his playing – but even they have their moments.
The sound – as with Volume I – is very good, with Claudio Passavanti doing a superb job of re-mastering the sound, and eliminating the pops, distortions are deterioration of the original tapes. Having heard the original bootleg recordings, I can safely say this is a massive improvement.
The CDs are released on 10th August, and an album launch party will be held at Camden’s Jazz Café on September 18th, which will see the Trio reunite once more, joined by Quentin Collins on trumpet, Richardson’s son Leo on saxophone and Cherise Adams-Burnett on vocals. It should be a great celebration of Chet’s music, the hard work that went into releasing these fine recordings, and a good opportunity to hear one of the best British jazz trios playing together once more.