At its best, Chet Baker’s music wasn’t just warm, lyrical, and inviting—it was transportive. He tossed his voice like a paper airplane and stripped classic melodies to their essences. But in the last years of his life (before a fatal plummet from a hotel window in 1988), Baker rasped about his desire to eliminate drums from his music, removing any remaining extraneous noise from his sound.
Hence, we get resurfaced music like Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings 1983-1985, a double-disc collection featuring only trumpet, bass, and piano. While Baker’s output grew inconsistent as the decades wore on, there are plenty of gems from his final decade; 1982’s Studio Trieste and 1985’s Candy are downright essential. Does Live in Paris live up to either? Hardly.
Hearing him gum through opener “It Could Happen to You” is painful; ditto for his seemingly endless scatting sections. When Baker just plays—as on “Easy Living,” “Stella by Starlight,” and the entire second disc—some of the old magic seeps through.
That said, is Live at Paris valuable to Baker fans, and as a historical document. As Ashley Kahn notes in his liner-notes essay, “It fits into this very special window of time when Baker was more settled and consistently supported than almost any other time in his life.” Kahn’s insight tracks: this music isn’t a disaster, and the candlelit intimacy shines through. But nothing here eclipses his seven or eight best albums—not even close. No amount of context can make unmoving music grab your heart.
Throw on his arguable masterpiece, 1959’s Chet, if you want heart-stopping beauty. That’s the transportive Chet; this one is largely inert.
Learn more about Live In Paris: The Radio France Recordings 1983-1984 on Amazon!