JAZZ & BLUES

Ten years after his body finally gave up the battle against what is euphemistically known as "the jazz life", Chet Baker still has a firm grip on the imagination of the jazz-buying public. Indeed, for many, he probably epitomises the ability to produce beauty from unpromising circumstances. And one of the trumpeter and ballad-singer's greatest rivals for that position was the alto player Art Pepper, who appears as Baker's sparring partner on Picture of Heath, one of the latest batch of Pacific Jazz reissues being put out by Blue Note. Originally entitled Playboys, this 1956 record dominated by Jimmy Heath tunes sees the pair in good fettle, with Pepper's sax tone - on the lively numbers especially - as distinctive as ever.

Baker fans are particularly well served at the moment. As well as this and other Pacific reissues, there are re-releases from other labels, too. One of the most welcome of these is Columbia's Chet Baker With Strings album from 1954, which, with tunes like "You Don't Know What Love Is", is a truly lachrymose affair. In addition, Verve has just issued a three- CD package covering a date Baker performed with another exponent of the "cool" style, Stan Getz, in Stockholm in 1983.

The great virtue of this reissue programme is that the vaults are being trawled for lesser-known names as well as stars. Consequently, there is the opportunity to assess the breadth of the much-maligned West Coast sound through the often interesting work of the engineer-turned-saxophonist Bill Perkins, Bud Shank and Jack Montrose as well as Cy Touff, a performer as obscure as his chosen instrument, the bass trumpet.

Furthermore, the idea that the West Coast was all about somewhat intellectual mood music performed by white musicians is given the lie by the recent Blue Note compilation Blue Pacific Funk, Walkin' on the West Coast. Rooted in the driving R'n'B brought to the Los Angeles area by Texas musicians, such as Curtis Amy, Harold Land and the group then known as the Jazz Crusaders, many of the tracks are highly danceable numbers. With Mid-Westerners such as trumpeter Carmell Jones and organist Charles Kynard also present, this is a groove-laden album that offers a glimpse of what those hot and sweaty East LA nightclubs described so diligently by by thriller writer Walter Mosley must have been like.

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