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Jazz at Ann Arbor
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  • Chet Baker (trumpet) was arguably at the peak of his prowess when captured in a quartet setting at the Masonic Temple in Ann Arbor, MI, May 9, 1954. He's joined by Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass) and Bob Neel (drums), all of whom provide ample assistance without ever obscuring their leader's laid-back and refined style. Baker's sublime sounds also garnered notice from critics, who had placed him atop polls in both Metronome and Down Beat magazines the previous year. Evidence of these lauds are obvious upon listening to the combo as they nestle into one of the cornerstones in their repertoire, the suave "Line for Lyons" -- a track dating back to the artist's short-lived yet genre defining work with the song's author, Gerry Mulligan. Almost immediately after establishing the melodic theme, Baker dives into his trademark solos. The fluidity throughout the seemingly off-the-cuff excursions presents confirmation of both his unquestionable timing and understated subtle authority. The rhythm section ably follows the improvisations with solid, yet never overpowering support. Freeman also shines throughout, especially during the stately opening to "Lover Man" or the up-tempo jiving "Maid in Mexico." Other classics include the stark intimacy of Baker's signature "My Funny Valentine," as well as respectively frisky renditions of "Stella by Starlight" and Freeman's own crowd-pleasing "Russ Job." In 2000, these eight cuts were coupled with five additional previously unreleased sides from the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles circa August of 1953. The results were Quartet Live, Vol. 1: This Time the Dream's on Me (2000), the first of three archival volumes featuring Baker during his initial reign as the poster child for West coast cool jazz. ~ Lindsay Planer
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