Art Pepper and Bill Watrous – Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sounds” Vol. 4 – Omnivore

Art Pepper and Bill Watrous – Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sounds” Vol. 4 – Omnivore OVCD 225 – 1979 – 58:15 – ****1/2

Alto and trombone, a mellow blend…

(Art Pepper – alto sax; Bill Watrous – trombone; Russ Freeman – piano; Bob Magnusson – bass; Carl Burnett – drums)

The first recording that Art Pepper made for the Japanese label, Atlas, in 1979 was actually the fourth one that Atlas released in its series of West Coast jazz sessions from Pepper. The Japanese jazz listening market at the time dug the west coast style of lightly swinging contrapuntal arrangements. Since Art was under contract to Galaxy at the time, Pepper had to officially be the main sideman to the “leader,” a role that he actually appreciated since he could then channel his passionate playing as his sole responsibility.  He was able to choose the actual sidemen, and for this March, 1979 recording, Pepper chose wisely. Russ Freeman was one of his favorite pianists, soulful and rock solid in his swing. Bob Magnusson was his regular bassist, and Carl Burnett was perfect to anchor the groove.

Bill Watrous, now 78, was early in his career at that time, and looks boyish on the cover photo of  this CD issue. He only had about three albums under his belt at that time, but was already noted for his warm tone and advanced technique. Here he makes a super partner for Pepper, both hot and prepared to burn with Art, but also possessing a gorgeous burnished tone on ballads.

They open with “Just Friends” and the contrapuntal blending of alto and trombone is so soothing, like tea with honey. Magnusson’s bass solo is well recorded as is Carl Burnett’s  cymbal accents. Russ Freeman is warm and welcoming. We’re off to a good start.

“When Your Lover Has Gone” is a feature for Watrous and his solo is achingly beautiful. Russ Freeman is exquisite, tender and probing with a light touch. Watrous wrote “For Art’s Sake” and its an uptempo swinger with Art and Bill accelerating into overdrive, and then easing off the pedal like a race car driver cutting the track’s corners with full concentration. “Funny Blues” is a Pepper composition. Outside of his ballads, which I adore, it’s my favorite type of Pepper tune, both funky and loose, where Art can strut his stuff. Watrous has a more restrained solo, but he also manages to “honk” at appropriate times. Russ Freeman again demonstrates why Art liked his playing so much- funky when needed, blues based, simply the right lines always fitting in.

On “Angel Eyes” Art is peerless on this ballad, expressing both pain and moments of breaking through the clouds. Freeman takes the lead on Art’s journey during his piano solo. His intuition in uncanny in being fully in step with Art. Having an alternate take of this track as a bonus cut is deeply appreciated.

I really dug this meeting between Pepper and Watrous. Although I have the Jack Sheldon and Art Pepper West Coast Atlas date (Angel Wings), I’m looking forward to its (hopefully) imminent release in this series. Pepper and brass is a fine combination to float my boat.

Tracklist:
Just Friends
Begin the Beguine
When Your Lover Has Gone
For Art’s Sake
Funny Blues
Angel Eyes
P. Town

Bonus Tracks:
Funny Blues
Angel Eyes

—Jeff Krow

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