Few, if any, jazz artists have recorded in live settings as frequently as Chet Baker. His catalog includes dozens of live albums (under his and others’ leadership), the lion’s share from the “comeback” decade, 1978-88, preceding his death. Mostly on small labels, the majority captured in European venues, the sound and/or performance quality ranges from barely listenable to sublime. This latest find, culled from a weeklong springtime stand at London’s posh Canteen club in 1983, joins such worthy latter-day outings as Live at Ronnie Scott’s – London, with Van Morrison, and Chet Baker in Tokyo at the upper end of the scale.
The 10-track playlist, filling two discs and two hours, focuses primarily on standards long-associated with Baker. Supporting him is a sharp British trio, intuitive and polished, comprising pianist John Horler (best known for his work with John Dankworth and Kenny Wheeler), bassist Jim Richardson and drummer Tony Mann. Baker’s trumpet solos, though occasionally ragged, are expressive and inventive; his trademark long lines are still impressive. Surely aware of how ravaged and strained his voice had grown, he incorporates vocals sparingly, adding light scatting to “I Remember You” and faltering through “The Touch of Your Lips,” yet managing to affectingly caress “My Funny Valentine.”
Live in London is also a marvel of reconstruction. Originally taped by Richardson on a hand-held cassette recorder placed atop his rumbling monitor, the source material was understandably subpar. But the crisp and clean restoration is astonishing.