Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Chet Baker

  • The Best of Chet Baker [Riverside, 2004] A
  • Love Songs [Columbia/Legacy, 2004] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Best of Chet Baker [Riverside, 2004]
Baker was the genius journeyman for whom Dave Hickey devised the freelancer's epitaph: "If This Dude Wasn't Dead, He Could Still Get Work." He recorded some 60 albums, and although I know I slightly prefer this 15-track '50s selection to Hickey's "all-time favorite record" Chet Baker Sings, and much prefer it to Bluebird's jazzier 1962 Chet Is Back!, I'm not about to explore them all. His adore-the-melody trick has its limits unless his white Oklahoman affect touches you like it does Hickey, the white Texan son of a swing musician with bebop dreams. So this is ideal. As someone who's always preferred Baker's singing to his trumpet, I was surprised to find that three vocals were only one short of what I would have preferred (words on "It Never Entered My Mind" later on, please), and surprised to swoon for the instrumental opener, a 1952 "My Funny Valentine" the notes claim was a hit. I was also surprised to hear more romance--and less "cool"--in this "My Funny Valentine"'s lyricism, sensuality, and bassline than in the contemporaneous version that opens Miles Davis Plays for Lovers. Thank Baker's smooth, soft, full, breathy sound. Thank Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, and (on the two jazz compositions) Johnny Griffin. Thank Paul Chambers. Thank the melodies. A

Love Songs [Columbia/Legacy, 2004] Dud