Selection: Pent Up..Tune Up…Cock-up! rip mix-up! Tune Up (Davis)
. . .
Chet Baker, trumpet; Glauco Masetti, alto sax; Gianni Basso, tenor sax; Renato Sellani, piano; Franco Cerri, bass; Gene Victory, drums. Recorded Milan, Italy, September 25-26, and October 6, 1959 (including selection Pent Up House).
Chet Baker’s life, and death, has been well documented elsewhere, but a brief repriseserves to set the context for Chet Baker In Milan, which hails from Chet 1.0 – the young trumpeter in the ascendant. Moody Hollywood good looks, glossy tone, melodic and sensitive voicing, telling a heartfelt and compelling song. And incongruously, he also sang.
Somewhere in the ’50s Chet started out on his lifelong addiction to narcotics. While touring in Europe he consumed vast quantities of the prescription opioid analgesic Jetrium/Palfrium, devoting considerable energy into chasing doctors for prescriptions, persuading friends to supply. Narcotics possession led to his arrest in Germany, Italy and England, and in the mid-’60s he was finally deported back to the US , where an encounter with dealers put him out of action for almost a decade, his teeth knocked out during a beating. It’s not generally good business practice to deprive your customers of their livelihood, and so unable to maintain their expensive habit. I’ve argued before, one of the worst things about narcotics is the kind of people you have to deal with to buy them.
Chet 2.0 marked his return in the mid ’70s, painfully recovering his embouchure with the help of dental prostheses. He moved to Europe, initially to Italy but gigging everywhere, a decade of a nomadic lifestyle playing concerts throughout mainland Europe. His boyish good-looks were now ravaged by narcotic use and his punishing lifestyle, which terminated abruptly in 1988, falling from an Amsterdam hotel second floor window , just short of age fifty.
I’ll leave it to others to debate the musical merits of Chet 1.0 and Chet 2.0. What I see is a man, defiantly still standing, who says “Yes, I am a wreck. But I play, it’s who I am“.
Shortly after the 1959 Chet In Milan recordings, Baker recorded “With 50 Italian Strings” – a waterfall of strings, sighing woodwind and twinkly harp which All Music awarded just 1½ stars, due to its sickly arrangements, described by a Downbeat critic as “lethargic and deadly”. Is 1½ stars too generous? I would have run a mile just on sight of the 50 strings title, despite the presence of Gianni Basso, tenor-rising from somewhere in the vast string section .
The real treat of Chet In Milan is the encounter with the young Gianni Basso, rising star of the Italian jazz tenor, just before his long-term quintet collaboration with trumpeter Oscar Valdambrini – another fine player not well-known outside Italy, or indeed within. I recall traipsing around Italian street market record stalls enquiring whether they had any Quintetto Basso Valdambrini albums, almost only found in Italy. Blank looks. I thought, perhaps it’s my pronunciation, but no, head shake. Strictly English and American rock and pop, it is all anyone buys or sells here.
Though Basso is often described as modelled on Stan Getz, I hear a different voice: blistering speed and precision, eloquently formed figures and driving lines with excitement, unfailingly inventive and arresting. I think – Tubby Hayes, cockney garrulous, but in Italian, E Pericoloso Sporgersi. His solo in the Rollin’s playbook Pent Up House is a house on fire. The Italian line-up in Milan 1959 was so well-schooled in the American jazz oeuvre it sounds as much like Chet in Hollywood as Milan. “Bartender, save the Americano, hit me with a Negroni.”
Quintetto Basso Valdambrini originals are impossible to find, and I resort to reissues, even a few CDs. On his final departure in 2009, Gianni Basso, left this forwarding address, practice in Italian first. It’s just sort of English but with an added -a, -e, -i and -o at the end of each word:
Tranquilli, non muoio, vado solo a suonare da un’altra parte
Stay calm, I’m not going to die, I’m just going to play somewhere else.
That will be some swinging Afterlife Club, someone get me tickets, front row.
A deep dive into the recordings of Gianni Basso is to be found in the excellently-titled blog A Jazz Listener’s Thoughts. Now why didn’t I think of that name?
Vinyl: Fantasy OJC 370 (1989) reissue remastered by Phil de Lancie.
Originally issued as LPM-2094 Chet Baker Sextet & Quartet on the Italian Music Depositato label. By now Chet had lost his big quiff, he sports care-worn furrowed brows, scanning to spot a dealer. The original Italian 1960 release is fiercely expensive, selling at between 300 – 500 euros shipped from Italy. However it is deep groove, my heart skips a beat, a beautiful artefact. This must be from original tapes, recorded in Italy so mastered in Italy.
Released in US as Jazzland JLP 18 in both mono and stereo, JLP 918S, and in a number of other cover design guises, including an Orpheum (post-Riverside era reissue), Italian reissue labels Joker, UP, the French Disques Vogue and a legion of modern reissues including Doxy, WaxTime, DejaVue and Uncle Tom Cobley and All records.
I wouldn’t normally admit to owning, let alone recommending Fantasy OJC reissues, but sometimes it’s alright. Riverside’s other label, Jazzland, has some great recordings and some painfully shrill ones, and the original US pressing quality I have found not reliable. The vinyl can look clean but suffers annoying clicks and pops, compromised by dirty manufacturing origin. British Jazzland issues can be even worse, dropping a tape generation and overly-bright engineering, so an OJC is not a bad compromise.
Based on their strong track record, I would probably go for the French Disques Vogue, generally very solid pressings. Which editions boast original tape source, who knows, and whether the moderns are digital transfers, possibly.
De Lancie was voted best remastering engineer in 1991 and boasts a fifteen year history of remastering many classic jazz titles, a steady pair of hands, and had the good sense to engineer straight mono here, JLP 18, not the stereo JLP 918S, I assume.
OJC? Cheapskate! Cheapskate! 1989 remastered? Infidelity! Unfaithful!! AND it bears the mark of the devil: a barcode. Yes but, yes but…excuses. It is still mono, and its available in front of me to inspect and take home.
I had wanted this title for a long time, so when I came across a copy face to face in a London record store, at the time ignorant of its long and varied reissue history. I grabbed it, willing to brave the OJC provenance. At the counter, the assistant duly fished it from the stock filing system shelves, a horrid job I could never do, I hate filing. He handed it over for inspection. I was shocked but not altogether surprised at its featherweight. I am used to handling and weighing records, something I guess very few people do. 180 grams, 220 grams, 140 grams, this baby was seriously anorexic. The lightest record in my collection is 96 grams, also an OJC.
Showing off to be a knowledgeable collector, a petty vanity, I know, I commented “ its very light! Less than 100 grams I’d say“. The sales assistant sniffed, not to be one-upped by a mere punter. He took it both hands. “About 120 grams” he sneered, an expression on his face that said “I sell records all day, mate! You can’t tell me anything” Many years ago, as a student, I came across an entire book written by a social psychologist about the relationship between supermarket checkout assistants and their “customers”, all about who has the power in the relationship.
I thanked him for his professional advice, and the offer of a plastic bag, without charge. Small shops apparently escape the irritating plastic bag tax requirement. “D’ya wanna bag?” first line in the retail relationship today. I took the record home, and shortly after running it through the ultrasonic cleaning machine, out of curiosity mounted it on my digital scales.
For just a moment there, I felt smug.
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Any thoughts about Chet, there are a lot of strong opinions out there, and I’m a relative newcomer to his work, being grounded in Miles. Any OJC stories, I’m all ears, well, partly. And Italian jazz fans, be proud, raise your hand high. Great country, great appreciation of quality of life. Especially the white wines of the Alto Adige/ Trentino/ Collio and the very special Veronese Soave Classico.
If I come back for a second chance, London can wait, I’ll make it Italian. Bartender, another Negroni. Pronto.
Certamente signore ItaliJazzCollector, subito!
UPDATE September 25, 2018
Maurizio from Canada shares a pictures of his Jazzland mono of Chet In Milan. Looks a nice laminated cover, better quality cover art than the OJC, nothing cheapskate there, but the concealed black strip at the top where the word STEREO would appear on the stereo edition, currently pasted over by the liner notes.