Chet Baker Quartet at Ann Arbor
Chet Baker (trumpet) was arguably at the peak of his prowess when captured in a quartet setting at the Masonic Temple in Ann Arbor, MI, May 9, 1954. He’s joined by Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass) and Bob Neel (drums), all of whom provide ample assistance without ever obscuring their leader’s laid-back and refined style. Baker’s sublime sounds also garnered notice from critics, who had placed him atop polls in both Metronome and Down Beat magazines the previous year. Evidence of these lauds are obvious upon listening to the combo as they nestle into one of the cornerstones in their repertoire, the suave “Line for Lyons” — a track dating back to the artist’s short-lived yet genre defining work with the song’s author, Gerry Mulligan. Almost immediately after establishing the melodic theme, Baker dives into his trademark solos. The fluidity throughout the seemingly off-the-cuff excursions presents confirmation of both his unquestionable timing and understated subtle authority. The rhythm section ably follows the improvisations with solid, yet never overpowering support. Freeman also shines throughout, especially during the stately opening to “Lover Man” or the up-tempo jiving “Maid in Mexico.” Other classics include the stark intimacy of Baker’s signature “My Funny Valentine,” as well as respectively frisky renditions of “Stella by Starlight” and Freeman’s own crowd-pleasing “Russ Job.” In 2000, these eight cuts were coupled with five additional previously unreleased sides from the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles circa August of 1953. The results were Quartet Live, Vol. 1: This Time the Dream’s on Me (2000), the first of three archival volumes featuring Baker during his initial reign as the poster child for West coast cool jazz. [The 2007 Jazz Beat reissue included bonus tracks.]
This CD contains Chet Baker’s complete concert at the Masonic Temple, Ann Arbor, in 1954. Plus five outstanding bonus tracks from the trumpeter’s celebrated Tiffany Club performance in Los Angeles, three month later.
Baker’s first national tour would begin in the spring of 1954 and continue for nearly four months, with stops at all the most important jazz venues. The first concert was organized by local jazz promoter and D.J. Ollie McLaughlin and took place at the Masonic Temple in downtown Ann Arbor. Baker is in good form here, both musically and emotionally. His song introductions and brief banter with the crowd is light – at times producing laughter from the crowd and provides stark contrast to the down trodden, distrustful and taciturn moods of his later years.