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Chet Baker: But Not For Me

This 1982 session was first issued in 1994 on Stash, and it quickly disappeared. Pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ben Riley were Baker’s rhythm section for an engagement at New York’s Lush Life club. Flutist James Newton and Howard Johnson, playing tuba, joined the quartet in the studio. The album features some of Baker’s tenderest ballad playing of the ’80s on Haden’s “Ellen David,” Dennis Luxion’s “Prayer for the Newborn,” and “Lament,” a variation on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

In “But Not for Me,” the tempo nearly outruns Baker’s ability to articulate the lyrics, but he follows with two beautifully formed choruses of scat singing that are among his best improvisations. Johnson’s tuba solo is as fleet and cogent as Baker’s scatting. The two, with Baker on trumpet, throw a counterpoint fiesta in a series of exchanges with Riley. There’s more of their counterpoint in “Four” and in “Line for Lyons,” done without piano in the manner of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Johnson manages to evoke Mulligan’s baritone saxophone in the exposition, rips a classic tuba solo and provides discreet background for parts of Haden’s bass solo. Newton only solos on “Lament,” but it is beautiful. He and Johnson blend flute and tuba for a rich ensemble sound behind Baker on “Ellen David.” Barron solos on two of the ballads and Riley has tasty four-bar exchanges here and there, but for the most part they function as team players, strong in support.

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