Store this away for when you next want to play “guess the trumpeter.” Play track 5 of the first CD of Chet Baker – Live in London, an up-tempo Rhythm-changes number, Margarine, and start at about [06:15]. The trumpeter is clearly energized by Tony Mann‘s drum solo, he doesn’t hang around soloing for long before wrapping up the number and announcing the break between sets, but in about a minute of playing the energy he releases, the sheer fluency of the fast-running semi-quavers, those blisteringly rapid runs, the sheer positivity… are such that this sounds nothing like the strung-out victim of legend that Chet Baker has become. Yes there are sudden re-thinks and switchbacks and blind alleys in the way he lets the solo happen (rather than constructing it),but bravado and momentum carry the day.
I had the good fortune to attend one of the original gigs in the week of March 28th to April 3rd 1983 when Chet Baker was in residence with John Horler’s trio at the Canteen in Great Queen Street. Thanks to the fact that bassist Jim Richardson obtained Chet Baker’s permission to record the gigs on a Walkman… and now, thanks to the diligence of producer Martin Hummel in securing the permissions and organizing the sound restoration, there is a fascinating double CD of that residency.
When Martin Hummel asked me to write a short sleeve-note. I didn’t actually get the opportunity to hear the album before writing it , so I had to trust my memory of a gig heard 33 years ago. I am mightily relieved. What I remembered of the surprising level of energy in his playing was right. Reality and convenient, handed-down myth can indeed be very different things.
The launch gigs on Monday and Tuesday of this week (August 22 and 23, 2016) re-united the John Horler trio that plays on the album. Quentin Collins was playing trumpet and MC’ing, with Jim Richardson’s son saxophonist Leo Richardson, and Norma Winstone (a surprisingly rare Ronnie Scott’s appearance) singing the vocal numbers on the album, notably The Touch of Your Lips and My Funny Valentine. Musically, I would single out pianist Horler for being so unbelievably attentive. Particularly when Norma Winstone was re-shaping and shifting a melody away from the expected line, Horler would let none of her inspiration go unnoticed, and instantly echo it and use the melodic material. Genius.