Chet Baker is remembered through his wonderful music. Finding an outfit which captures both voice and trumpet is a big ask. They nearly crack it. Colin Steele is front-line on trumpet along with Iain Ewing on vocals and accompanied by Euan Stevenson on piano at Edinburgh’s renowned Jazz Bar.
There’s so much to love about this gig. There’s something in the jazz rule book about clapping after solos and often we want to.
Opening with There will Never Be Another You, it’s clear from the first note why Steele is named in the same breath as Chet. The smooth, easy notes swing up there with the best, transporting us back to the smoky clubs of the West Coast of the fifties, where Baker became an icon of the ‘Cool’ school of jazz. My heart stood still. You Don’t Know What Love Is has a fleeting hint of the Miles Davis L’Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud.
Evidently Ewing too has studied the master well, his phrasing capturing that of the tragic soul who fell (jumped?) to his premature death in Amsterdam at the young age of fifty-eight. The jazz world was devastated, but not surprised. But disappointingly we hear none of this. Not even the names of the songs. Many there will be familiar with them and will know his story. But not all. It seems everything is, “A fast one...a slow one.” Baker was, “a flawed character with James Dean looks,” Ewing tells us. It would have been nice to hear more of that later, as tonight’s singer promised. And although Ewing’s soft voice is indeed reminiscent of Chet, it doesn’t quite capture that vulnerability, that fragility, which was a constant for the drug-addicted star. Maybe no-one can. Once or twice there’s a hint of Michael Bublé. And the joking references to U2 and others yank us back to the twenty-first century. Momentarily the thrill is gone. It would have been nice to stay for the hour in that nineteen fifties basement with the world frozen in time.
Glasgow-based pianist Euan Stevenson is, as promised in their listing, sublime. We hear precisely why he won the Emerging Artist Award in 2013 at the Scottish Jazz Awards. Gutsy on Time After Time, his comping is variously smooth and rich here, yet lifting on the up-tempo numbers. But Not For Me raises the spirits. “A cheerier number,” announces Ewing.
There’s so much to love about this gig. There’s something in the jazz rule book about clapping after solos and often we want to. But when we hear a solo like any one of those from Steele tonight, it’s hard not to just stay with that moment, barely breathing, let alone moving one hand to greet the other. So too with the piano, and almost so with the vocals.
Colin Steele was born too early to be Chet reincarnate. But he’s pretty damn close and this is a gig worth turning out for. But if you don’t know Chet before you come, read up a bit first. It will be worth it, even in busy festival time.