As a leading exponent of the West Coast sound, trumpeter Chet Baker was as well known for his introspective vocals as his cool horn style. Prestige’s fourteen-track collection pulls together selections from nine albums drawn from the years 1952 through 1965. The bulk of the set is taken from albums made forRiversideand Jazzland in ’58 and ’59, along with an earlier side on Fantasy and two later sides on Prestige. Baker’s intimate vocals are featured on four tracks (“Do it the Hard Way,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Old Devil Moon,” and “The Song is You”), with the rest finding his trumpet accompanied by the likes of Chico Hamilton, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers, and sharing the spotlight with Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Griffin, Herbie Mann, Zoot Sims and others.
The set opener, a 1952 take of “My Funny Valentine” with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, is among Baker’s purest expressions, shading contrasts between romantic and wounded, confident and doubtful, pensive and expressive. Throughout the collection, Baker’s trumpet is absorbed in thought, slowly revealing itself in long lines and quiet transitions. Even when pushed to mid-tempo and goosed by saxophones, Baker’s tone and volume remain understated. He stays cool and under control, even as he navigates the complexities of “Have You Seen Miss Jones?” There’s a lot to Baker’s catalog, including albums waxed for Blue Note and Pacific Jazz before he joinedRiverside, and a tangle of labels between his stints onRiversideand Prestige, but these late ‘50s classics are a great place to start. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]