by C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Jeff Baker is a Boise, Idaho native with a New York state of mind. His debut recording, Baker sings Chet, pays tribute less to Chet than to the music the late vocalist made his own. Jeff Baker has a beautifully smooth and confident vocal style that would sound appealing singing polka music. Backing Mr. Baker is an exquisite septet that sounds damn near like a big band. This swinging little-big unit tears it up with pithy and intelligently arranged renditions of the Chet Baker songbook that downright refreshes the music.
Baker shares the limelight with all of the band members. Alto saxophone player Brent Jensen turns in a bona fide West Coast solo on “How Deep is the Ocean.” Tenor player Sandon Mayhew shows up on “The Touch of Your Lips,” along with bassist Jeff Rew, whose solo is short and to the point. The showstopper of the disc is an almost bulldozer abstract “But Not For Me,” a Gershwin classic taken at a breakneck pace, featuring Jensen on alto followed by Rob Walker’s flugelhorn, which gives way to Baker’s own deft scatting. The watershed “My Funny Valentine” is given an airy, dreaming treatment, with Baker’s own timbre approaching that of Chet Baker’s flat affect.
The sum of the parts of this recording is definitely greater than the whole. I recommend this recording without reservation. Jeff Baker is an important emerging new talent.