Chet Baker & Crew

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Chet Baker and Crew has the distinction of being  recorded during a week of sessions that Baker recorded upon returning to the States after a disastrous year abroad. Baker had spent a great deal of time overseas in 1955, touring with a group that included bassist Jimmy Bond, drummer Peter Littman, and pianist Richard Twardzick. Twardzick never returned from that tour, a victim of a drug overdose. Bond left the group shortly thereafter, and Baker later fired Littman following a date at a U.S. military base.

Baker stayed on in Europe for several months, turning up anywhere and everywhere. Both Bond and Littman rejoined Baker upon his return to Los Angeles; the group is rounded out here by pianist Bobby Timmons and tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, a cool school player whose most recent previous gig had been with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd. Urso and Baker were very simpatico players and they continued to work together, on and off, for many years.

Baker’s playing is subtly changed on this recording from what it had been when Baker was playing with Gerry Mulligan. The evidence of that change can readily be heard on the version here of Mulligan’s “Revelation.”  It is more outgoing, thanks largely in part to Urso’s enthusiastic, open sound and attitude. When Baker steps into his solo, you can almost hear the experience of all those nights on the road in Europe, haunted by the ghost of Richard Twardzick and his own demons.

Baker’s playing is solid here, and the interplay between he and Urso make this a very enjoyable listen. His playing is always tasteful yet full of unbridled enthusiasm that wins the listener over right away. He also provides two excellent compositions, the gorgeous “Halema” and the soul jazz workout “Lucius Lu.” Chet Baker and Crew provides a great chance to hear this underappreciated saxophonist in action.

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