This two-CD set, which comes with a lavishly appointed booklet and pictures, is intended as a tribute to Chet Baker (1929-1988) the famed trumpeter and singer of American jazz. Baker is considered to be a stylistic innovator, particular during his rise to fame in the bebop era of the 1950s. Although raised in Oklahoma, he was a global traveler, and particularly in the 1980s played mostly in The Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.
This project is a creation of some of the musicians he played with during that time. The Volume One CD contains instrumental pieces associated with Baker during his tenure in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in the 1950s. Volume Two focuses on songs from his solo years when he began singing. Dutch vocalist Fay Claassen sings these, as well as performing bebop scat over the tunes in Volume One. Together, the discs comprise 25 tracks.
The producers and musicians specifically disclaim any attempt at imitating Baker’s distinctive brass and vocal styles, a task that would be both impossible and perhaps degrading to his uniqueness as an artist. Since Baker was not a composer, however, we are then reduced to the awkward reality that this set contains no Chet Baker at all.
Once the squirmy premise is set aside, we are left with the music on its own merits. The arrangements are inoffensive and generally well done, although a little of Claassen’s scat goes a long way. Her vocals on the second set are pleasant enough. The material includes many of the old standards Baker worked with, such as "My Funny Valentine" and "The Thrill Is Gone." These tunes have been interpreted by many artists, and Claassen and company offer their interpretations here.
But the end result will likely seem strange to anyone who remembers the originals. These tracks are neither an original declaration of a band nor an authentic reading of Baker. They are more like a scientist reading out a dead comedian’s jokes.
Perhaps these so-called portraits will evoke memories of Chet Baker as the group intended. Still, given the man’s extensive discography, including anthologies, it would seem a much simpler matter to remember Baker by purchasing those discs that actually feature his own work.