Chet Baker – Cools Out (1956)
Wasn’t expecting anything at all, given the utter lack of reviews: not even the usually reliable Allmusic has a one-paragrapher about this one; no Wiki page either. It certainly doesn’t help that Chet Baker’s discography is one of the greatest examples of complete lack of quality control (later, for an obvious reason), with mediocrities and redundancies everywhere. To wit, I’d sooner point anyone to In New York than Cools Out: hearing drummer Peter Littman step out of the time-keeping role in the back-half of “Extra Mild” just makes me yearn for how Philly Joe Jones would’ve handled the same parts (much better, methinks). But I flashed a smile at the absurd clomp of “Pawnee Junction”, the melodic kiss of “Helena” between Chet Baker and Phil Ursa (tenor saxophone), the speed of the appropriately titled closer. And opener “The Route” is a goodie, but it’s hopelessly tacked on: the thing was recorded with a completely different (and better) band, plus Art Pepper, and just happened to be recorded around the same time.
Chet Baker – Blood, Chet and Tears (1970)
I downloaded this almost a year ago, checked out “Easy Come, Easy Go”, remember reading a quotation either from Baker or someone close to him about how he needed the money for heroin, remembering getting stressful flashbacks to Stan Getz’s Reflections, and moved on with my life. Returning to it so I can chuck out an easy review, I couldn’t find that quotation anywhere, so you’ll have to settle for this instead, from Baker, according to lifelong friend Artt Frank who helped make the album possible: “I really don’t like having to do this album, man […] I just don’t feel good about having to play that fucking kind of shit, you know” (as cited by Stereo Candies). The fucking kind of shit that Baker is referring to is covering songs already covered by Blood, Sweat and Tears (get it?). Losing proposition from the get go: Chet Baker’s straight-arrow lyricism can’t replace the gruff and young Alex Chilton of the Box Tops’ “The Letter”; the high school musicians assembled here (sounds like it anyway) can’t do the twist and turns of any Laura Nyro song (“And When I Die”), and generally speaking, the rhythms have this a-rhythmic clomp about them (“Easy Come, Easy Go”); the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” is draggy and I couldn’t figure out the source material until after the fact, staring hard at the title. It doesn’t help that the production is lame-duck, gloss-shit, sell-out stuff. The best I can say here is that the Beatles’ “Something” is a lax take on the song, and though there’s nothing to return to, there was no reason to skip forward either, and that “Come Saturday Morning” sounds like what the Byrds were doing around the same time (“Ballad of Easy Rider”).
Chet Baker – Embraceable You
1995 was a good year for jazz, relatively speaking, with a lot of respectable albums from long-time respected jazz musicians – even an unearthed and excellent Donald Byrd album dating back to 1969-70 and a less-excellent John Coltrane odds and ends dating back to 1967. This one was unearthed too, from 1957, but it’s not excellent; not even particularly good as anything more than background music. The advertisement: producer Richard (Dick) Bock deemed this one too depressing and shelved it; quoting James Gavin, “Baker had hit a turning point: for the first time in an album, he had completely dropped his facade of cool. There is no happy ending, he seemed to be saying, just sinking despair over promises broken”. The reality: slow, sparse, painfully underdeveloped songs (most of them are under 3 minutes), whose slowness and sparseness evoke sadness by simply being slow and sparse. Add to this the problem of Chet Baker’s voice, which was unique and wonderful in the correct circumstances, but simply sounds limp and amelodic here.