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October 2006

Fay Claassen
Two Portraits of Chet Baker
Munich Records

This is an astonishing two-disc album. The first is devoted to highlights from the Gerry Mulligan–Chet Baker pianoless quartet of the 1950s; the second focuses on Baker’s vocal repertoire after leaving the quartet. Dutch-born Claassen dominates both CDs.

On the first album, her wordless voice re-creates Baker’s trumpet lines flawlessly, thanks to the transcribing of baritone saxophonist and arranger Jan Menu, who also brings to life the Mulligan sound. In the spirit of “Music Minus One,” Claassen replaces Baker’s trumpet, revealing her amazing skill at phrasing, the most memorable being Mulligan’s “Line for Lions”. It gets better when “Lyons” is repeated: just trumpet (Claassen, of course) and baritone sax, very slow. It’s an eloquent study in counterpoint.

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Fay Claassen

The second CD has a dozen tracks of Baker-related tunes sung by Claassen (with trumpet and piano added), and again she gives a master class in phrasing—without a trace of Dutch accent—revealing a firm intonation along with good range. Best tracks: “My Funny Valentine,” “Blame It on My Youth,” “The Thrill Is Gone” (tastefully reharmonized by arranger-bassist Hein Van de Geyn) and, above all, Shearing’s “Conception/Deception,” featuring Claassen’s tight unison with trumpeter Jan Wessels.

Bottom line: This is a classy, 25-track tribute to Chet Baker.

Originally published in October 2006
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