January/February 2005

Chet Baker
The Last Great Concert
Justin Time Records

As with Louis Armstrong's, Chet Baker's voice was an extension of his horn. Baker demonstrates that in his swan song, The Last Great Concert (Justin Time), a newly remastered reissue of My Favorite Songs, Vol. 1 & 2, originally recorded by Enja just two weeks before Baker died in 1988. For that live concert in Hannover, Germany, Baker has plenty of fine support, including the NDR Big Band, the 43-piece Radio Orchestra of Hannover and an ideal rhythm section like pianist Walter Norris, bassist Lucas Lindholm and, a bonus on two tracks, expat altoist Herb Geller. Of the 14 tunes, 10 are plucked from the Great American Songbook. The exceptions are "All Blues," "Django," Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" and George Shearing's "Conception." The highlight, among many highlights, is Baker's signature tune, "My Funny Valentine," played and sung twice: once over lush strings and later just with piano and arco bass. Don't turn it off when you hear the applause; the vocal on the reprise is in the postscript. If neither "Valentine" gives you goose bumps, man, you ain't human.

Originally published in January/February 2005

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