This DVD features two short concerts by star-crossed jazz legend, trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker, each set bookending a rough phase in his career. Baker, who was a pioneer and leading exponent of the West Coast "cool" jazz style, led a troubled life, made worse by chronic drug addiction and run-ins with the law... In the early 1960s, he was living in Europe (partly to avoid legal hassles in the U.S., partly because the Europeans adored him...) In 1966, after returning to the States, a down-and-out Baker was severely beaten on the streets of San Francisco, and had to stop performing for several years, slowly making a comeback in the 1970s and '80s.
The first set on this disc comes from a 1964 concert in Belgium where Baker is backed by saxophonist Jacques Pelzer, with whom he seems to have a lot of sympathetic musical inclinations -- despite his drug habit, Baker seems quite robust and still has his hunky youthful good look (he was a babe) and clearly towers over his European sidemen in terms of musical prowess. That imbalance continues in the later set, a stunning set from 1979, with German vibrophonist Wolfgang Lackerschmid and a loose-limbed, longhaired European ensemble that settles into Chet's mellow vibe with greater ease than their '60s counterparts did in the first half of the DVD. Baker looks totally trashed, but also battled-hardened and tough as leather -- a near-skeletal Nick Nolte comes to mind -- and at least a good dozen years older than his actual age. But, oh! does he sound sweet! After spending a decade rebuilding his career, Baker burns with intensity and purpose, and while he has delved into the light-funk stylishness of the '70s jazz-fusion sound, his work is, if anything, more lyrical and accomplished than his classic recordings of the '50 and '60s, oozing out a hard-won soulfulness and hidebound beauty. Lackerschmid is an able collaborator, providing sensitive backing, as well as a fine original tune, "Five Years Ago," which has a gorgeous chamber-jazz complexity and harmonic richness to it; the set closes with an extended jam, on "Love For Sale," in which Baker plays more aggressively than many folks might expect -- he's still laid-back, but man, is he intense.
The 'Seventies set is the real find of this release -- the first concert provides a good contrast, but Baker's heart is clearly more into it in '79; success is much further away than it was in '64, and he is a much hungrier and wiser performer. In a pre-show interview, added on the disc as well, Baker offers up his appreciation for modern fusion players such as Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Michael Brecker; when asked about his own future efforts, Baker preciently repies, "I'll be lucky if I can milk this for another ten years..." And indeed, Baker passed away in 1988, all too young, but having left a beautiful memory. Fans will dig this long-overdue archival release.