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Chet Baker: The Italian Sessions

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Trumpeter Chet Baker had many sides and moods, and his emotions surely colored the outcome of his recordings or concerts. On this particular 1962 day in Rome, however, Chet was rarin’ to go; his chops were on target and his improvisational skills were never sharper. This reissue presents a hard-bop Baker, and the few first few notes of the opener, Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” set the tone. This is a side of Chet that is best remembered. Forget the allusions to James Dean or the strung-out cultural icon. Here is Baker as the consummate jazz musician doing some serious blowing.

He is joined by Bobby Jaspar on tenor and flute, Rene Thomas on guitar, Amadeo Tommassi on piano, Benoit Quersin on bass, and Daniel Humair on drums-cats that Baker hadn’t recorded with, but with whom he found immediate communication. Listen to his interplay with Jaspar and Thomas on “Pent-Up House,” or Tommassi’s work on “Blues in the Closet.” There’s a constant drive to the music, with Baker shining on standards such as “Over the Rainbow,” “These Foolish Things,” and Birds’ “Barbados.”

The solos are exceptional, to the point, and relevant. Baker, to be sure, is lyrical as he can only be, but there’s an added edge to these sets that make his riffs longer, stronger, and full of horsepower.

Since Chet died in 1988, his recordings have never been more popular or more prolific. Many, perhaps most, are excellent and worthy of a place in your collection. If space is a problem, though, and you only have room for a few, The Italian Sessions would be a recommended choice.