Verve/A&M's reissue of Chet Baker's 1977 album You Can't Go Home Again features the trumpeter/vocalist supported by an all-star band that includes guitarist John Scofield, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond in his final recording session. Former Miles Davis sidemen Tony Williams and Ron Carter also add an organic touch to the proceedings and a warm contrast to the electric pianos and Moogs that flow through Don Sebesky's arrangements. Alternate takes of the title track and others including "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You/You've Changed," "The Best Thing for You," and "If You Could See Me Now" make this double-disc set a more complete look at one of Baker's most important latter-day albums.
- Heather Phares (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
In 1938, five months before he died so tragically young, Thomas Wolfe went to Purdue University to make a speech in which he summed up his life. Recalling the publication and overwhelming success of his first novel, "Look Homeward, Angel',' Wolfe discussed with frankness the things he had not known in 1929.
"... I did not know that for a man who wants to continue with the creative life, to keep on growing and developing, this cheerful idea of happy establishment, of continuing now as one has started, is nothing but a delusipn and a snare. I did not know that if a man really has in him the desire and (he capacity to create, (he power of further growth and further development, (here can be no such thing as an easy road I did not know that so far from having found out about writing. I had really found out almost nothing I hod made a first and simple utterance; but I did not know (hat each succeeding one would not only be more difficult than (he last, but would be completely different, (hat with each new effort would come new desperation, the new and old. sense of baring to begin from the beginning all over again; of being face to face again with the old naked facts of self and work; of realizing again that there is no help anywhere save (he help and strength (hat one can find within himself."
Wolfe's encapsulation of the challenge and agony of artistic growth is as timeless and universal as are his books. There are few mature creative artists who haven't reached the conclusions drawn in that paragraph of insight and honesty. And there is no jazz artist alive who parallels Wolfe's experience of struggle and growth) more exactly than does Chet Baker.
The barest outline of Baker's career.... the early success, the decline and crash, the self-doubts, the discipline and control of his comeback.... is a synopsis of the process Wolfe described at Purdue.
Born in 1929, the year of Wolfe's first triumph. Baker achieved his early acclaim in 1952 when his solo on the Gerry Mulligan Quartet recording of "My Funny Valentine" made the record a best seller and the young trumpeter an overnight star. His acceptance included popular and critical response unusual for a new jazz artist, and it continued more or less unabated for five years. Then Baker began a 13-year contest with heroin in which heroin nearly won. But after one climactic drug ordeal that could have cost him his life, and left him with dental damage that might have ended the career of someone less determined, Baker faced Wolfe's "new desperation, the new, and old, sense of having to begin from the beginning all over again; of being face to face again with the old naked facts of self and work; of realizing again that there is no help anywhere save the help and strength that one can find within himself.
He kicked the habit. He imposed upon himself the pain and frustration of adapting his embrochure to the new configuration of his teeth and lips. Having overcome those obstacles, he began to move into a new and deeper phase of development as a creative musician.
In no other field of expression has the artist less chance of privately refining the creative process than in jazz. The nature of the work is public. Every experiment, every advancement, every setback is for all to hear. Baker's return to active playing caused something of a stir in New York in 1973. His work was uneven, but there were stretches of brilliance. In club dates he was often hampered by unworthy rhythm sections, and he is not one of those soloists who plunges ahead impervious to the slings and arrows of bad time and wrong chords. But if you heard Baker often through his Renaissance period of the 1970s, you were aware that in spite of occasional aimlessness, his expression was deepening, that within himself he was finding a new profoundness. There was a burnish and passion that, for all his fleetness and lyricism, Baker had not demonstrated during his days of early fame. Having developed his robust yet wistful romanticism even further, he achieves one of the most expressive solos of his career in the album at hand on Bud Powells "Un Poco Loco" In fact, lifted and inspired by some of the best young players of the day, and by Don Sebesky's stimulating settings of the music. Baker's performance throughout this collection shows him to be at a new level of growth.
Sebesky, who produced as well as arranged and conducted, says Baker is "one of my special people. My goal here was to depart from the nostalgic. Chet is capable of so much more than playing the old songs for which he's famous, and the bop things. My idea was to stimulate Chet, and that's why I picked the players I did"
The musicians are a mixture of old and fresh acquaintances for Baker. He has recorded several times with Ron Carter, and has worked with Richie Beirach, Hubert Laws, and Kenny Ban-on. The others... .with one exception.... were new to him. Mike Brecker and John Scofield are described by Sebesky as among the most open of all the young musicians in New York, able to play and interested in playing in several styles, and accomplished in all. Brecker, of course, has achieved considerable recognition for his ability to combine energy with melodic flow. Sebesky believes Scofield is destined to become one of the best known guitarists of the seventies. Alphonso Johnson, an accomplished jazz/rock electric bassist, was chosen as a foil for the acoustic bass of Ron Carter and, with his special effects to provide atmosphere. The atmospheric function is audible from the first note of "Love For Sale" The bass duet with the formidable Carter on the same piece establishes that Johnson has the technique to be thrown into such heavy company. Ralph MacDonald is the ubiquitous percussionist, in demand constantly for jazz, rock, commercial, and sound track recording. Tony Williams, languishing in a kind of artistic limbo the past few years, shakes off his ambivalence and does some of the best playing he's put on record since the breakup of the Miles Davis Quintet in which he was such an important and inspirational element.
Sebesky's "El Mono;' previously recorded as "The Rape Of El Mono" is one of his most successful compositions. It is an ideal vehicle for Bakers newly intensified conception.
"You Can't Go Home Again" Sebesky's song inspired by the title of Thomas Wolfe's 1937 novel, was Paul Desmond's last recording. Less than four months later, he was dead of lung cancer. Baker and Desmond had recorded together twice before, and for more than twenty years had admired one another's work. During the height of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's popularity in the middle and late 1950s, Desmond quoted frequently from Baker's recorded solos. Here, although he had rarely played in previous months, his tone was as magical as ever, and his long-lined lyricism was intact. But he had the stamina to record just this one song, and left the session to go home and rest. The end was nearer than he or any of us could know. The implications of Sebesky's song title and of Wolfe's novel are full of meaning for Baker. It is probably best expressed by Wolfe in a long letter to a friend, a letter written about his book but, typically, never mailed. In it, Wolfe listed all the things to which you can't go home again, from family to dreams. And he concluded that "....although you can't go home again, the home of every one of us is in the future: there is no other way."
For Chet Baker, renewed and rededicated as an artist, there is no need to try to go home again; the future is full of challenge and promise.
-Doug Ramsey (June 1977)