Chet Baker: Blue Room review – gorgeous unreleased sessions by maestro of drowsy jazz

(Jazz Detective)
On previously unheard 1979 recordings for Dutch radio, impulsive improvisations by the trumpeter-vocalist are expressed with his inimitable featherlight phrasing

In 1988, the Vogue photographer and occasional film-maker Bruce Weber made Let’s Get Lost, a lingeringly homoerotic but revealing documentary homage to “the white Miles”, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Like Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic Bird and Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight (also released in the jazz-fashionable late 80s), it was a serious film about the music itself, even if the movie business’s conviction that improvisational genius, addiction and mental turmoil were natural bedfellows wasn’t far away.

Baker’s life was tailor-made for that treacherous storyboard: a James Dean-like doomed youth and Charlie Parker sideman in the 1950s; the star of the era’s chamber-jazzy cool school movement whose heroin habit brought jail terms, domestic strife, a playing life of one-night stands and early death at 58. Yet through it all, Baker kept conjuring beautiful jazz, particularly in Europe. The previously unreleased Blue Room joins together two 1979 studio sessions for Dutch radio, with classy trios led by pianists Phil Markowitz and the late Frans Elsen. The Latin-swaying Beautiful Black Eyes introduces Baker’s inimitable trumpet sound, blown as if he’s barely exhaling, the phrasing a mix of drowsy musing and impulsive flurries that hardly jolt his hypnotically flatlining dynamics.

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