Art Pepper – Art Pepper Quartet – Omnivore Recordings

Art Pepper – Art Pepper Quartet – Omnivore Recordings/ Tampa OVCD-214/ TP-20 – Mono – Nov. 1956 – 45:59 ****

Classic 1956 West Coast session from Art Pepper…

(Art Pepper – alto sax; Russ Freeman – piano; Ben Tucker – bass; Gary Frommer – drums)

One of my most treasured West Coast jazz LPs is a Japanese pressed audiophile vinyl of the Marty Paich Quartet featuring Art Pepper from 1956. It epitomized  early West Coast jazz with cool arrangements, lightly swinging and highly melodic. The LP was issued by Tampa Records and cost me a pretty penny. It was well received when issued, and influenced Tampa to record Pepper with his own quartet shortly after. Now thanks to Art’s widow, Laurie, and Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore, we get the opportunity to hear this November, 1956 recording in fine remastered (by Michael Graves) sound on CD (also available on Vinyl).

It took quite a bit of legal wrangling and perseverance by Laurie to regain possession of the master tapes, and we get the benefit of her detective work. At the time of this session, Art was in a good space with a relaxed confidence that the immediate future held promise. It did for awhile (roughly two years before his demons returned), and there is a calm lyricism in his playing here, his noted passion still present, but no need for the pressure cooker to blow its top. The seven original LP tracks feature some splendid ballads spiced up with blues tracks and riff driven originals. Pepper wrote all but two tracks- “I Surrender Dear” and “Besame Mucho.”

Art’s band is first rate with Russ Freeman on piano, the great Ben Tucker on bass, and Gary Frommer on drums. They largely comp behind  Art, but Freeman gets several solos to highlight his impeccable chops, while Tucker gets some featured solo space on “Blues at Twilight.” However, this is Art’s space to shine, and he takes full advantage to show his gentle side on the sublime “Diane,” written for his wife at the time. Its unabashed romanticism is on full display.

Bright and effervescent is the album’s forte with “Art’s Opus” having Art and Russ trade fours, while “Blues at Twilight” is a classic slow blues providing a chance to caress each chorus. “Besame Mucho” is a bit more uptempo with Art hinting at the gritty passion that would continue to be his trademark, especially in his last years ,some 20+ years later.

There are five bonus tracks, mostly various takes of “Val’s Pal,” as well as full alternate takes of “Pepper Pot” and “Blues at Twilight.”

Laurie Pepper in her enlightening liner notes indicates that this session produced her favorite of  Art’s recordings. It’s an interesting choice. With all of the drama that Art either lived through, or brought on himself, the relaxed groove presented on this single day session in November, 1956 may have been as hopeful, and least complicated as Pepper ever experienced. Life and its preying demons just got in the way. For fans of Art Pepper, the resultant chaos produced the opportunity to hear some of his most passionate playing, without having to experience the grief that Art had to endure during large portions of the rest of his life.

Tracklist:
Art’s Opus
I Surrender Dear
Diane
Pepper Pot
Besame Mucho
Blues at Twilight
Val’s Pal

Bonus Tracks: Alternate takes/False starts and Incomplete takes of: 
Pepper Pot
Blues at Twilight
Val’s Pal

—Jeff Krow

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