CHET BAKER: POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS
CHET BAKER QUINTET & QUARTET
Chet Baker (tp) Johnny Griffin (ts) Al Haig (p) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs)
Reeves Sound Studios, NYC; September 1958
Fair Weather (6:55) RLP12-281 RLP(S9)-3505
Hotel 49 (8:07) - EP146
Blue Thoughts (7:35) -
J. Griffin (ts) out
Polka Dots and Moonbeams (7:57) RLP12-281
Solar (5:49) -
When Lights Are Low (6:50) -
Soft Winds (6:25) RLP12-294 RS-1134 OJC-256
Followers of jazz would appear to love argument almost as much as music, and there usually seems to be some sort of Great Debate going on. Once upon a time it was Dixieland vs. be-bop; during much of the 1950s considerable conversation and many magazine pages have been devoted to discussion of the relative merits of, differences between, and what-have-you of the so-called “East Coast” and “West Coast” schools of modern jazz. Such arguments are not going to e halted by anything as specific as a record album. But this one should make the debaters pause, at least briefly: both because they are apt to be a bit startled by what takes place here and because they’re likely to find it a lot more interesting to listen than to go on arguing.
For on this LP, CHET BAKER, the most notable of “cool” West Coast trumpet stars, joins forces with some highly talented representatives of the “hard” Eastern style. These five (and it is of some interest to note that not one of them was born in either California or New York) proceed to demonstrate at length what should be (but, somehow, often is not) an obvious and accepted jazz truth: that who you are is infinitely more meaningful than where you are form or what “school” you might be primarily linked with.
Chet selected his associates for this occasion quite deliberately. For to him this album, and the fact that it was to be recorded in New York, meant primarily an opportunity to do the kind of ‘bowing’ that, right now, he most wants to do. It also meant a chance to set some musical facts straight; and it is our strong belief that his performance here will serve to create a lot of new, and perhaps unexpected, Chet Baker fans.
The bulk of Chet’s recorded work, from the time he left the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, with which he scored his first major success in 1952, has been designed to emphasize almost exclusively the romantic and lyrical qualities of his style. And in that cool and often subdued vein he has done much extremely effective playing and has reached great and satisfying heights of popularity (as reflected in his having placed first on trumpet twice each, in recent years, in both Down Beat and Metronome readers’ polls). But Chet has felt increasingly that his usual musical settings were not permitting him to say all he had to say, to play as fully as he would like. His in-person appearance have often displayed a more driving and vigorous style, and he has used, in his working groups, men like Pepper Adams and Philly Joe Jones. In particular, he has developed a preference for a more directly ‘swinging’ rhythm section.
The present alum, which is essentially unlike anything Chet has done on records before, gives him a chance to fully translate such feelings into action. Terms like “cool” and “hard bop,” it should be noted, are not only relative but dangerous. For they can be highly misleading. There is nothing automatically emotionless and ascetic about cool jazz; and hard jazz is by no means necessarily all brute force and angular sounds. The meeting ground of this record should make that clear.
On three long tracks Chet is teamed with JOHNNY GRIFFIN, one of the most talented and exciting of present-day tenors. Griffin, who is Chicago-born, has been most prominently associated with Thelonious Monk and with Art Blakey’s jazz Messengers, which might make it seem that he and Baker are operating on very different wave-lengths. But the facts of the matter are that the two blend most remarkably well, with the vigorous Griffin sounding perhaps a shade more lyrical than usual and Chet, as intended, tougher than usual. Two of the vehicles for their coming together are numbers scored for this occasion by Benny Golson, the brilliant young composer-arranger who is very much a part of the current Eastern scene and is one of the most melodic writers on any Coast or anyplace in between. Hotel 49 is the first recorded composition of a promising new jazz writer, Owen Marshall.
On all six selections, there is spirited and tasteful support from a stand-out rhythm section; AL HAIG, a forthright and sensitive pianist who is in the “youthful veteran” category by virtue of having worked wit both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker during the ‘40s, as well as in a Baker group in ’55: PAUL CHAMBERS, one of the very best of the large crop of outstanding young bassists to come along in the past few years and currently with Miles Davis; and PHILLY JOE JONES, who has toured with Miles, and (as an indication of our regard for his talents) is the drummer most frequently used on Riverside dates. This trio creates a rather awesome combination of drive and control, lifting Chet buoyantly on a tune like Miles’ Solar, and helping ballad-tempo numbers like Blue Thoughts and Polka Dots and Moonbeams to be richly lyric without danger of being soporific.
This LP is intended solely as good, swinging jazz; but it would seem that it also manages to deliver a couple of messages. One, of course, is to beware of those who generalize about the incomparability of different “schools” of jazz. And another is that Chet Baker, whose present followers should find this album a source of much enjoyment may also have a message for people who have not yet dug him.
NOTE: JLP(S9)-88 reissue of RLP12-281
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