A blend of passion and cerebral coolness…
Art Pepper & Warne Marsh – Unreleased Art: Volume 9 at Dante’s, April 26, 1974 – Widow’s Taste APM 16001 – 3 CDs 58:44, 60:03, 57:22 ****:
(Art Pepper – alto and soprano sax; Warne Marsh – tenor sax; Mark Levine- piano; John Heard – bass; Lew Malin – drums; Bill Mays – piano on “Cherokee”)
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to all nine volumes of previously unreleased live recordings of Art Pepper issued by his widow, Laurie Pepper under her own label. They cover the later years of Art’s career and display his urgency in sharing his vision even when he was in ill health and fully aware that he did not have long to live. If at all possible, Art’s playing became even more vibrant as he poured out his guts and love for the music that had sustained him when drugs and incarceration sapped his strength and well being.
The latest issue from Laurie documents a full evening at Dante’s, a jazz club in North Hollywood. Recorded in late April, 1974, from tapes of an unknown source, Art was sharing the stage with tenor saxist, Warne Marsh. Pepper had recorded with Warne back in the mid 60s but it appears that their paths did not cross often before this chance meeting, when Marsh was subbing for Jack Sheldon. Their styles would seem to not really mesh as Warne was out of the Lennie Tristano school of a cooler more cerebral sound than Pepper’s “hotter” blues based passionate playing. The liner notes make mention that there would be a meeting point between the two reed men, as both Lester Young and Charlie Parker influenced both musicians. When you have two jazz musicians of the stature of Pepper and Marsh, they have the innate ability to intuitively blend well. It is a testament to the skills of Warne Marsh, however, that he probably sacrificed more of his style/vision that evening to meet the steam roller of Pepper. Listening to the nearly three hours of music recorded that evening, Marsh certainly holds his own with Art, and often matches him in intensity (Art’s forte) chorus for chorus.
The vast majority of tunes (largely standards) exceed ten minutes and provide a chance for both gentlemen to stretch out and explore their creativity. They spar with each other, and it spurs on their improvisations to make these well known compositions “theirs” for the evening. They often mix a sweet and sour blend as Pepper brings a funky blues driven approach while Marsh, still swinging, goes in a profound, less blues based direction. Both can explore more “out” playing, and each seems up to the challenge to go where the other leads.
Based on my tastes, I thoroughly enjoyed the ballads a bit more than the off-to-the-races heaters. “What’s New” was like a contemplative walk between two soul mates as the horns play off each other. “Donna Lee” is hot bebop and Warne’s creative improvisation had Pepper on his “A” game when he sensed a challenge. Warne matched Pepper in the passion department which is a real accomplishment.
“Walkin” features Art on soprano sax, and he brings to mind a snake charmer with his keening tone. Warne’s tenor solo here is quite the opposite of the cool icy reputation of a Tristano influenced reed player. On “Lover Come Back” the saxes are like slot cars on the track in a mad sprint. “Good Bait” is another free for all, beginning loose and funky but opening boundaries as it progresses.
I will never tire of Art Pepper emoting on “Over the Rainbow.” I have heard it on most of the Unreleased Art issues and I am convinced that Art owns this classic tune. He pours out his heart each time, and this night Marsh is just as passionate. Incredible…
Other signature tracks include “Here’s that Rainy Day,” “Broadway,” and the mournful “Round Midnight,” where there is a bit of role reversal as Art explores the “bottom” of his alto while Warne takes on the upper range of the tenor. On an extended “Cherokee” Bill Mays sits in on piano and his three minute solo at the twelve minute mark is memorable.
The live recording has been digitized, edited, and mastered by Wayne Peet and it meets present acoustic standards well enough to highlight the strengths of all the musicians. The bass and drums are set back a bit but the piano skills of Mark Levine are on full display. It’s the two iconic sax men, however, whose chance meeting epitomize why we love this music so much. Thanks to Laurie Pepper for sharing the magic.
Disc 1: All the Things You Are, What’s New?, Donna Lee, Band Intros, Walkin’
Disc 2: Over the Rainbow, Lover Come Back to me, Good Bait, Here’s that Rainy Day, Rhythm -A-Ning
Disc 3: Broadway, Yardbird Suite, ‘Round Midnight, Cherokee, Closing Comments
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