In 1964, trumpeter Chet Baker returned to the United States after five sometimes-traumatic years spent overseas (which included a long stay in an Italian jail for drug abuse). Baker recorded prolifically during his first 14 months back in the States, including a set for Colpix, two records for Limelight, and, in a busy three-day period, five albums for Prestige titled Groovin', Comin' On, Cool Burnin', Smokin', and Boppin' With the Chet Baker Quintet. The Prestige sets have been long overlooked and only partially reissued in the past, but in 1997 they reappeared as three CDs.
Burnin' At Backstreet was recorded at the Backstreet Club in New haven Connecticut on February 19, 1980. Baker and Frank appear in a quartet format with bassist Michael Formanek and pianist Drew Salperto. The repertoire is wholly Baker. Baker loved the Miles Davis songbook and his performances of Davis originals were always more rounded and open than Davis.' "Tune Up," the modal "Milestones" and craggy "Four" share the stage with another Baker favorite, Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'n Boogie." Baker is in good solo form on these up tempo numbers. His tone is fat and confident, even when presented tartly, like the opening of "Milestones"…
At this 1974 concert baritonist Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter Chet Baker had one of their very rare reunions; it would be only the second and final time that they recorded together after Mulligan's original quartet broke up in 1953. Oddly enough, a fairly contemporary rhythm section was used (keyboardist Bob James, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Harvey Mason, and in one of his first recordings, guitarist John Scofield). However, some of the old magic was still there between the horns, and in addition to two of Mulligan's newer tunes, this set (the first of two volumes) also includes fresh versions of "Line for Lyons" and "My Funny Valentine."
Like a number of live Chet Baker albums released over the last ten years, this one documents a concert that took place shortly before his tragic death (having recently resumed his drug habit, he fell from a hotel room window in 1988). Unlike most of them, though, this one shows him to have still been in complete control of his musical faculties, playing not just beautifully and well, but with energy and even speed despite his deteriorating health. His singing, too, sounds uncannily like that of the quiet young sex symbol he'd been in the 1950s, before age and heroin ravaged his face and emptied his eyes.
Before delving into the music on this collection, it's important to offer a note of caution to Chet Baker fans: Italian Movies is not a really a compilation of the trumpeter's work, so much as a series of film scores by the great composer Piero Umiliani between 1958 and 1964 on which he is featured either as a soloist or as part of the orchestra. It might better have been marketed to Umiliani fans, but it's tough to fault label Moochin' About for a little creative license when repackaging a previous issue of this music that appeared on Liuto Records – that one was co-billed to the pair. Other than on disc three – where Baker doesn't get to solo until track nine in the score for 1962's Smog, yet is still featured for 20 minutes – there is plenty of him to go around as he works amid his Italian contemporaries.