September 2006

The Chet Baker International All-Star Tribute
presented by The Chet Baker Foundation
September 1, 2006The Music HallToronto
All Things Chet Baker
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert

It was night one of a three-day tribute to Chet Baker's music at the recently revivified The Music Hall, and noteworthy past band members, family, musicians, and fans of the late trumpeter/singer, gathered to reminisce in sound.

Altoist Herb Geller ripped off a stark arpeggio to officially start off the evening and engage in duet with pianist Harold Danko on both "Forgetful" and the difficult but tuneful George Shearing piece, "Conception".

Geller's solo ably captured the running quality and small cry that distinguishes the Shearing tune, while on Mel Torme's "Born To Be Blue" — eyes-shut moody like Baker's best ballad playing — Geller's urgent alto was complemented by the open throat bass of Ray Drummond, Danko's always tasteful piano, and drummer Ted Warren's detailed playing.

Herb Geller and Kevin Turcotte

Geller then exited the stage, but with trombonist Curtis Fuller's ragged start to a medium tempo theme, it frankly took two more tunes before — thanks to flautist Nicola Stilo and the rhythm section — there was a regained feeling of group stability. Here, Stilo's deep romance and quicksilver proddings were matched by the equally nimble Danko piano.

On "Bernie's Tune", Geller returned to the stage, joined by altoist Bob Mover and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. Stilo and Turcotte were fleet and pure-toned. Mover's solo was extremely rhythmical, with highly arresting bent tones. Fuller's slide work was appropriately quicker and cleaner, and Geller was in full flight. After a round-robin trading of decent 8's and finally, 4's, the first set concluded.

After Intermission, Danko was replaced by Hal Galper who proceeded to reveal his questing individuality at the keyboard. As part of a vibrant quintet made up of bassist Drummond, horns Stilo and Turcotte, and drummer Ted Warren, Galper truly raised the intensity on "Love For Sale", which, with its head-tossing boogaloo treatment, found Turcotte speaking economically and Galper deftly feeding his prehensile chords into the groove.

A gentler mood becalmed the quintet in Antonio Carlos Jobim's swaying "A Portrait in Black and White". Flautist Stilo soloed with an easy triplet feeling, Galper contributed a rippling solo statement, and Turcotte spoke a mellow blues.

The distinctive singing of Chet Baker was next commemorated by altoist Mover who sang: "D's Dilemma" by Mal Waldron; "Oh, You Crazy Moon" (which included a heart-warming alto solo); and finally, a careful reading of "My Funny Valentine". The same praises unfortunately cannot be extended to Emily Mover — who may have made her dad proud — but on "The Sunny Side of Life", she persuaded some of us that she could benefit from more stagecraft, confidence, and vocal projection. On the other hand — it should be noted — the familiar tune, "Imagination", ironically benefited from her somewhat quirky, deadpan approach to singing.

To round off the evening, all hands were on deck to blow on Bird's blues, "Cheryl". Mover was in high velocity Bird mode and trumpeter Turcotte again reminded us, with his insistent two-bar stresses, that this is a blues. But for some reason, when it was his turn, Nicola Stilo seemed unprepared, and his solo began with hesitant and noticeably rudimentary blues phrases.

Just a few times, the fact that this world and a couple of its veteran jazz musicians aren't getting any younger, became the uncomfortable focus of the performances. There were occasional wandering attention spans, tardy solo entrances, and forgivable but noticeable technical slip-ups.

But these critical observations aside, it was a congenial evening devoted to remembering Chet Baker's rich musical legacy, and the audience was happy to be there.

Herb Geller – alto sax & vocals
Bob Mover – alto sax
Nicola Stilo – flute
Kevin Turcotte – trumpet
Curtis Fuller – trombone
Harold Danko – piano
Hal Galper – piano
Ray Drummond – bass
Ted Warren – drums
Emily Mover – vocals
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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