21 Chet BakerLive in Paris (Radio France Recordings 1983-1984)
Chet Baker Trio
Elemental Music 5990442 (elemental-music.com)

In 1952, near his career’s beginnings, Chet Baker became an instant star playing cool jazz with the Gerry Mulligan quartet. It was the opposite of everything that then characterized modern jazz: glacially slow, meticulously arranged, almost improvisation-free. Thirty years later, just a few years before his death, Baker was still playing a kind of cool jazz, but it was frequently fast, with extended improvisation.

Available as three LPs or two CDs, Live in Paris presents two concert recordings, each featuring Baker’s preferred instrumentation, a chamber jazz trio of trumpet, piano and acoustic bass. The first concert, from L’Esplanade De La Défense, focuses on the Great American Songbook. It’s the ballads that stand out, with stellar instrumental performances of Easy Living and Stella by Starlight, the rhapsodic accompaniment by pianist Michel Graillier (his fluid harmonic invention resembles Bill Evans’) and bassist Dominique Lamerle feeding Baker’s lyrical gift. Episodes of Baker’s scat singing, while mimicking the fluid detail of his trumpet playing, detract from two up-tempo performances. 

The much longer club session from Le Petit Opportun is much more consistent, with Baker foregoing singing and popular songs to concentrate on East Coast hard bop anthems – e.g., Hank Mobley’s Funk in Deep Freeze, Horace Silver’s Strollin’, Richard Carpenter’s Walkin’ – pieces that take on new character with the chamber jazz dynamics and the more forceful bass playing of Riccardo Del Fra, further propelling Baker and Graillier. A 19-minute (the improvisations really are extended) treatment of Brazilian composer Rique Pantoja’s Arbor Way is another highlight.

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