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05/20/13

Matt Dusk
My Funny Valentine: The Chet Baker Songbook
E1 Music

Vocal tributes to Chet Baker have, of late, become a mini-industry. While the vast majority of interpreters have gotten it wrong, confusing Baker’s personal pathos with his music, crooner Matt Dusk succeeds by resisting the temptation to don a misrepresentative mask of tragedy. Instead, he opts to simply be himself. My Funny Valentine could just as easily be a tribute to Sinatra, with whom several selections, including “Angel Eyes” and “All the Way,” are more closely associated.

Across 12 tracks, Dusk alternates between swingin’ loose and light, à la Sinatra’s early Capitol days, and making more grandiose musical statements, as the Chairman was wont to do during his later Reprise years. The arrangements, variously crafted by Shelly Berger, Rick Wilkins and Ryan Ahlwardt, add additional distance, recalling the vibrant Nelson Riddle and Billy May charts that were essential to Sinatra’s midcareer rebound.

Still, Baker’s presence is occasionally felt, the haunted beauty of his horn playing evident on three tracks skillfully embellished by Arturo Sandoval, including a deliciously sultry “Let’s Get Lost,” and on a fragile “Someone to Watch Over Me” gently propelled by Guido Basso. Conversely, Ahlwardt’s attempt to echo Baker’s vocal etherealness while backing Dusk on the closing “I Fall in Love Too Easily” proves misguided, sounding instead like an over-stylized Art Garfunkel.

Originally published in May 2013
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